No Drowsy Driving

A short nap can make the difference

Is Sleep Deprived Driving Considered DUI?

Posted by on Sep 14, 2014


Most people probably agree that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is dangerous and should be avoided.  But what about distracted driving and drowsy driving?  The article “Why Do People Have Drowsy Driving Crashes?” written by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety stated 55 percent of drivers admitted to drowsy driving, 23 percent reported falling asleep while driving and 5 percent crashed due to driver fatigue or distracted driving.  Sleepiness, fatigue, and distractions differ slightly from one another.  Sleepiness is your inclination to fall asleep and is caused mostly by a lack of sleep.  Our bodies are naturally inclined to become sleepy twice during a 24-hour cycle.  The first in the middle of our nights sleep and the second 12 hours later, usually between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon.  The definition of fatigue by The National Center for Biotechnology Information is a “disinclination to continue performing the task at hand”.  You can become fatigued because of long work hours or monotonous activities such as driving.  Distractions while driving take your attention away from the task at hand, and become even more dangerous if you are also experiencing symptoms of fatigue or sleepiness.

Research performed at the Stanford Sleep Clinic discovered that individuals are not great at judging how sleepy they really are.  The effects of sleepiness, distractions, and fatigue are very much the same.  The effects of sleep deprivation are decreased vigilance, reaction time, memory, motor skills, information processing, and decision making.  These effects are the same as those who drive under the influence of alcohol.  In fact, if you woke up at 7 a.m and attempted to drive at midnight your cognitive performance behind the wheel would be the same as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05.  After staying awake for 24 hours and driving would be the same as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10, which is over the legal limit.  Your level of performance behind the wheel would decrease even more if you were also distracted or fatigued from a long day’s work.

In 1997 a college student in New Jersey was struck in a head-on collision and killed by someone who had fallen asleep while driving.  That event caused New Jersey to implement Maggie’s Law, named after the college student who was killed.  Maggie’s Law states that driving while sleep deprived is considered reckless driving or Negligent.  Negligent drivers can be prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide which can result in up to 15 years of imprisonment.

Since the enactment of Maggie’s Law almost all states have adopted similar vehicular homicide statutes that make it illegal to operate a vehicle knowing that you are fatigued or sleep deprived.  We are seeing more efforts by law enforcement to reduce the number of distracted and drowsy drivers, which means if you are tired, pull over and rest.  Taking a few hours out of your trip to recover is worth more than running the risk of causing an accident or going to prison for vehicular manslaughter.

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