State police report a woman in Dayton, Maine fell asleep at the wheel while driving along state Route 35. The driver was reportedly operating a Nissan Versa when she dozed off, striking a Toyota driven by a 65-year-old woman from East Waterboro. A 62-year-old passenger in the Toyota suffered personal injuries.
All three individuals were buckled up according to state law, which police officials say most likely saved the lives of those involved.
This incident once again underscores the dangers of driving drowsy, something Maine legislators have thus far been unable to criminalize, despite several attempts.
The National Sleep Foundation reports 60 percent of U.S. motorists admit to driving while sleepy. Nearly 40 percent say they have fallen asleep at the wheel at some point in the last year.
In a growing number of states, driving while tired is being classified in much the same way as intoxicated driving. That makes sense given the way in which driving while tired impairs one’s cognitive functions in a way that is similar to driving drunk.
As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports in its 2015 article, “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel,” after 24 hours of being awake, a person exhibits cognitive impairment that is akin to driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent or higher.
It’s estimated by researchers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that approximately 2.5 percent of all deadly car accidents and 2 percent of all injury-causing crashes are caused by at least one sleepy driver. That’s believed to be a low-ball estimate.
As The Portland Press Herald reported recently, drowsy driving is believed to have been responsible for some 11,000 traffic fatalities from 2000 to 2010.
It’s an issue that doesn’t have one simple solution because drowsiness isn’t something that can be detected in one’s system the same way as the presence of alcohol or drugs. Quantifying drowsy driving is tough, but commercial drivers are bound by certain rules known as “hours of service” laws. These are mandates that limit the stretches commercial drivers can be actively operating a vehicle and require a certain period of time for rest breaks. Even still, most drivers are responsible for reporting these hours themselves and some companies provide incentives for workers who fudge the numbers.
But following a number of high-profile fatal crashes, more attention is being paid to the issue. Some drivers are even being charged criminally. For example in New York, a tour bus driver was charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide after a 2011 bus crash in the Bronx killed 15 people. Prosecutors argued the driver was extremely sleep-deprived from working two jobs that he was affected to the point of intoxication. However, jurors ultimately acquitted him.
Last year in Maine, Rep. Stacey Guerin (R) introduced HB 683, which would have made it a crime to drive while fatigued. The bill would have quantified sleep deprivation as going without sleep for a period of 24 consecutive hours or more OR while the person’s ability to remain alert was so impaired by fatigue that it made it impossible to maintain the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, that action failed in the state senate in May 2015.
If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.
Seat belts prevent serious injuries in Dayton collision, July 26, 2016, By Ryan McLaughlin, Bangor Daily News
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Driver in Fatal Main Truck Accident Had Checkered Safety History, May 25, 2016, Bangor Car Accident Lawyer Blog