DUI’s, Distraction, and Drowsiness – It’s All about a Lack of Driver Focus

Rarely is there a single cause of a vehicle crash. For example, icy roads may contribute to a crash, but often people are driving too fast for road conditions, too.

Three of the top crash factors – distraction, drowsiness, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol – often occur together. An intoxicated driver is likely to be drowsy or distracted, and a drowsy driver is more susceptible to the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

Data released last year by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration showed that from 2015 to 2016, traffic fatalities attributed to distraction and drowsiness decreased, while drunk driving fatalities increased by 1.7 percent. The total number of fatalities in 2016 attributed to those causes was 14,750, which indicates drivers in the United States needs to get serious about safety.

Drowsy Driving: Who’s At Risk

After 18 hours of wakefulness, a driver’s level of impairment is on par with that of someone whose blood alcohol level is 0.05 percent; after being awake for 24 hours, impairment is equivalent to a BAC of 0.08 percent, the legal threshold of intoxication.

Drivers who don’t get enough sleep have a high risk of nodding off while driving. That’s because the human body will momentarily shut down when it needs to rest, in the form of “microsleep,” which is a brief loss of consciousness. Drivers can experience microsleep without closing their eyes; they might feel that they momentarily “zoned out,” when, in reality, they were unconscious.

Shift workers and long-haul truckers are at risk for drowsy driving. Although federal regulations limit drive time for truckers, their irregular schedules can disrupt their sleeping patterns. Without adequate sleep, it’s easy to nod off while driving in the dark on a long stretch of a flat highway.

Distraction: What it Really Means

In discussing distraction as a crash factor, much of the focus has been on cellphones and texting while driving. While using a phone (even a hands-free one) is a proven distraction for drivers, it’s just one of many activities that can take one’s attention off the road. Other distractions include:

• Chatting with passengers

• Eating, drinking, or smoking

• Adjusting dashboard controls

• Daydreaming

• Searching for something inside the vehicle

• Looking at a map or navigation system.

Driving Under the Influence: A Growing Problem

Police in states across the nation are seeing more drivers under the influence of illegal and prescription drugs. In states that have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, people may assume it’s OK to use marijuana before driving or while driving. But it’s not safe for drivers to use substances known to slow reaction time and alter perception.

Illicit drugs and prescription narcotics – even over-the-counter allergy medicine – can cause profound drowsiness. Unlike alcohol, which has highly predictable effects, drugs may affect individuals differently. Drivers need to be aware of that fact.

Unfortunately, the police can’t catch every drowsy, distracted, or intoxicated driver, so dangerous drivers will likely continue to cause numerous injuries and fatalities every year.

If a negligent driver caused a crash that injured you, you should consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. They may be able to help you.