When Does Drowsy Driving Become Impaired Driving?

Countless lives have been affected by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Because of the busy lives we lead, we tend to think of these kinds of accidents as unavoidable. After all, we can't control how long a driver spent at work before going home, or how much sleep he got last night, right?

Understanding Drowsy Driving

The problem is, drowsy driving is not simply "falling asleep at the wheel." It is actually any amount of fatigue that can affect the driver's performance or reaction time. A tired driver's reactions can be impaired far before they lose consciousness-and usually before they realize their driving has been affected.

Some facts you may not know about drowsy driving in Virginia:

  • Studies have shown that a driver can exhibit potentially dangerous levels of fatigue in as little as 80 minutes.
  • Due to the numbing effects of road hypnosis and lack of sunlight, the number of drowsy drivers at night can be 10 times as many as those on the road during the day.
  • Long car trips, traveling on monotonous highways, and driving immediately after waking are common factors contributing to drowsy driving accidents.
  • Drowsy driving crashes often cause more damage and more severe injuries than other accidents because the driver may not brake or take any evasive maneuvers before impact.

After a long day at work, we just want to get home. It may seem like too much hassle to pull over, to take a break-but we don't consider what might be lost if we continue driving. Driving under exhaustion in DC has been shown to cause at least as many accidents as drunk driving-but can result in increased injuries, since the driver was not awake to react to the crash.

Signs of Drowsy Driving

The next time you are driving home, check the drivers around you-and yourself-for these signs of drowsy driving:

  • Eye strain: Vision is one of the first senses to be affected by fatigue. If you see "floaters" behind your eyes, things "jumping" into the road, or blurred movement in your peripheral vision, your driving ability may be compromised.
  • Body signals: The body will try to tell you that it is too tired to drive, though its signals may be easy to shrug off. Yawning, muscle spasms, backaches and neck aches are signs that your body is tired-which means your mind is, too.
  • Personality shifts: Sleep deprivation is a form of stress-and your brain will react to it in much the same way. If a person becomes snappish, irritable, or argumentative, it's time to get them out from behind the wheel.
  • Odd moods: Your brain may try to keep itself awake with stimulating signals, such as hunger or daydreaming. If it fails, you may experience "micro sleeps"-short periods of sleeping that you only realize have happened when the car drifts to another lane, or you have changed speed without realizing it.

Contact a Virginia Car Accident Lawyer

Remember: Drowsy diving is impaired driving. If someone you love has been injured as a result of an impaired driver, contact the experienced Fairfax car accident attorneys at Shevlin Smith today at (703) 591-0067.

Michael J. Shevlin
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Specializing in medical malpractice and serious personal injury cases since 1994.