The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving caused more than 11,000 fatalities from 2000 to 2010. Unlike car accidents caused by drunk drivers, drowsy driving accidents can be difficult to identify and punish. How tired is too tired to drive? Unless a driver admits to falling asleep behind the wheel, how can authorities prove that is what caused an accident? Many people who would never consider driving drunk may feel free to drive through exhaustion. The results can be devastating.
Federal Hours of Service regulations limit the shift length that can be worked by commercial truck and motor coach drivers. They also require a period of time between such shifts. Those rules are intended to reduce the instances of drowsy driving among professional drivers. They are limited in their effectiveness, according to prosecutors, by the fact that the drivers are often responsible for reporting the hours themselves. That is just one of the limitations facing officials in reducing the number of tired drivers from the roads.
Beyond the difficulty involved in enforcing criminal repercussions for people who engage in drowsy driving and cause accidents, there is simply the problem of making people take notice. The NHTSA points out that sleep is the most effective cure for drowsiness, but that consuming caffeine and taking a nap can also lead to a short period of refreshed driving. Still, many tired drivers resort to methods that do not work: a loud radio, singing, eating, chewing gum and even getting out of the car to stretch your legs. People need to understand that driving drowsy is extremely dangerous. If you are sleepy, you should not be behind the wheel.
Source: Associated Press, “Drowsy Driving Remains An Elusive Highway Dilemma,” by Frank Eltman, 11 May 2013