Was the Driver Who Hit Your Car Drunk — Or Sleep Deprived?

Have you seen a driver keep drifting into your lane, hitting the rumble strip or running a red light until another driver beeps the horn and he slams on his brakes?

The driver is drunk, right? No, maybe he or she fell asleep at the wheel.

The effects of sleep deprivation are similar to alcohol consumption. Going 20 hours without sleep is equivalent to drinking until you have reached a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which would put you legally over the limit. Unlike drinking, however, you may not worry about feeling a little tired.

Presumably everyone knows that drunk driving is dangerous. But the seriousness of drowsy driving is not widely appreciated.

A person who would not consider getting behind the wheel after getting wasted at a bar might think nothing about doing so after being awake all night or only getting five hours of sleep.

What are the risks of getting hit by a fatigued driver?

Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. This translates into hundreds of thousands of exhausted drivers on our highways.

Here are some scary statistics:

  • 60% of Americans admit to regularly driving while tired
  • 15% admit to always being tired
  • 37% percent have fallen asleep at the wheel within the past 12 months

Police blame 100,000 crashes on tired drivers. They were responsible for 5,000 traffic deaths in 2015. You know the true number of fatigue-related crashes is much higher. And these statistics don’t account for frightening near misses.

If someone is trying to cram too much into a day, he’ll stay up too much and get far less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep he needs — and always more than six hours. Less than that, a person’s brain can zone out or go into what scientists call microsleep. This partial loss of consciousness can only last a few seconds, but it can be deadly. Overly tired drivers are a huge problem in Dallas-Fort Worth with all the 18-wheeler drivers on our roads that cause many serious crashes like this one.

How can you hold a driver liable for a drowsy driving wreck?

If police suspect the driver involved in a crash was drunk, they administer a Breathalyzer test. Your injury lawyer uses the BAC to prove the driver’s negligence. A BAC of .08 or higher is prima facie evidence that the driver was impaired. At a lower BAC, the driver’s skills, judgment, vision, depth perception and alertness were likely affected.

There is no such test for tiredness. Further, being sleepy is not a crime and therefore not typically investigated by law enforcement.

So what can you do to prove that the driver was negligently tired?

The police report often gives clues as to the driver’s exhausted condition. Was he swerving? Was he driving home from a night shift job? Where does he live? Was he at the tail end of a journey from south Texas?

Try to take a picture on your cell phone of him. And write down your own observations later. What did the driver say and do? Was he yawning or did he look disheveled? Were his eyes bloodshot? Were there empty coffee cups and Red Bull cans littering his car?

We dig even deeper during our investigation. If we suspect drowsy driving, we ask our client, eyewitnesses, and the police officer if possible if they saw evidence of diminished alertness, delayed reactions, and of course whether the at-fault driver looked tired.

After a lawsuit is filed, we subpoena relevant documents. I ask the driver questions during his deposition including these: How much sleep did you get the night before? The week before? What was your schedule for the week before the crash? How many hours did you work? Any overtime? Are you working on a rush project or under stress? What medications do you take? How much time did you spend on your computer/social media? What television shows did you watch the night before?

Our goal is to prove that the auto crash was easily avoidable and that his overly tired condition was the cause.

We are here to help you

We at Berenson Injury Law believe that the more you know, the safer you will be as you drive on our overly dangerous roads in North Texas.

If you need legal help with your car accident, please call us at 817-885-8000 or toll-free at 1-800-801-8585.

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