Driving while drowsy sounds harmless enough, but it is dangerous to both the drowsy driver and others, and can actually result in criminal charges and civil lawsuits. Drowsy driving laws vary from state to state, but in California, driving while drowsy is considered reckless driving. Because reckless driving is a serious charge with substantial penalties, it’s important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Driving while drowsy is not just a problem encountered by long-haul truckers – sleepiness behind the wheel can affect anyone, and there is both an increased awareness and enforcement of laws related to driving while drowsy.
Sleepiness can lead to car accidents due to impairment of the driver’s physical and mental faculties, with the ultimate impact being the inability to resist falling asleep behind the wheel. Drowsy driving impairs reaction time, information processing, and the ability to pay attention while driving.
There are no objective, measurable standards for drowsy driving, as there are for alcohol and drug intoxication. A crash typically related to sleepiness tends to have some or all of the following characteristics:
- The accident occurs during late night/ early morning or midafternoon.
- The crash is likely to be serious.
- A single vehicle leaves the roadway.
- The crash occurs on a high-speed road.
- The driver does not attempt to avoid a crash.
- The driver is alone in the vehicle.
Sleep is a basic, biological need for all human beings. The loss of one night’s rest can lead to extreme short-term sleepiness, and when sleep is consistently reduced by only one or two hours a night, chronic drowsiness can result. There is only one cure, and it doesn’t need a doctor’s prescription: Sleep is the most effective way to reduce drowsiness.
Although evidence is limited, studies indicate that there are certain factors that increase the chances for an accident that is caused by or aggravated by a drowsy driver. These include:
- Sleep loss
- Certain driving patterns, including driving between midnight and 6 a.m., driving many miles each day or each year, driving in the midafternoon hours, especially for older persons, and driving for longer times without taking a break.
- Use of sedating medications, especially prescribed hypnotics, certain antidepressants, and some antihistamines.
- Untreated or unrecognized sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.
- Consumption of alcohol, which interacts with and adds to drowsiness.
These factors have cumulative effects, and a combination of them substantially increases crash risk.
There are three population groups who appear to have greater susceptibility to driving while drowsy. By identifying those at risk, and taking appropriate corrective measures, it is hoped that many accidents can be avoided. Studies through NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, indicate that those most at risk include:
- Young people (ages 16 to 29), especially males.
- Shift workers whose sleep is disrupted by working at night or working long or irregular hours.
- People with untreated sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.
To prevent drowsy driving and its consequences, it’s important to get sufficient sleep, avoid drinking even small amounts of alcohol when sleepy, and, if possible, avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m.
As soon as a driver becomes sleepy, it is critically important to stop driving – either by allowing a passenger to drive, or by stopping to get some sleep. Taking a 15 to 20 minute nap and consuming caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee can help, but these are short-term solutions. The only truly safe course of action is to get a significant amount of sleep.
Any individual accused reckless driving, driving while drowsy, DUI, driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), or any other driving-related offense should contact a California criminal defense DUI lawyer who is well-versed in these cases. The Kavinoky Law Firm is a team of criminal defense attorneys who concentrate on DUI / DWI offenses, and other related crimes.