8 Sep

Drowsy Driving Remains a Problem in Massachusetts Despite Positive Steps

by in Accidents

Bostonians should be pleased to learn that a Massachusetts initiative to decrease the incidence of fatigued driving accidents among teenage drivers in the Bay State has been judged to be effective.

Changes in Massachusetts’ Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) made after a fatal drowsy driving accident caused by a 19-year-old driver who fell asleep, have resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of crashes involving 16- and 17-year-old drivers, the Washington Post says.

Amendments to our state’s Junior Operator’s Law were designed to allow drivers age 16½ to 17 years old to gain experience before obtaining full driving privileges. They included:

  • Requiring driver education, including drowsy driving education
  • Establishing strong penalties for unsupervised driving at night by teens
  • Implementing other new restrictions and penalties.

A study, which was published in June by Health Affairs, found that crash rates fell by 18.6 percent among 16- and 17-year-olds and by 6.7 percent for drivers age 18 to 19. At age 20 and older, the change was insignificant.

Young Male Drivers Most Likely to Drive Drowsy

Massachusetts has been a leader in work to combat drowsy driving, including having produced the 2009 special commission report that recommended changes to the state’s Junior Operators program. It and other studies point out that drivers age 16 to 29, particularly male drivers, are among those most likely to drive while fatigued.

Changes to the Junior Operator’s law only apply to teen drivers. A report by a special Massachusetts legislative commission identifies drivers with untreated sleep disorders, night-shift workers, commercial drivers, and people who work long shifts as at risk of fatigued and drowsy driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that drowsy driving leads to more than 100,000 crashes reported to police, 71,000 injuries, 1,550 deaths and $12.5 billion in property damage and lost productivity each year.

A National Sleep Foundation “Sleep in America” poll found that 60 percent of adult drivers (168 million people) said they had driven while sleepy in the prior year, and more than a third admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel. An estimated 11 million drivers have had an accident or near accident caused by drowsy driving.

Identifying the Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving

This makes it incumbent upon all drivers in the Boston area and across Massachusetts to understand the signs of drowsy or fatigued driving.

There are several signs that a driver needs to stop and get some rest, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s DrowsyDriving.org says. They include:

  • Blinking or yawning repeatedly, or rubbing your eyes
  • Having heavy eyelids or trouble keeping your head up
  • Having trouble focusing or having disconnected thoughts, or daydreaming
  • Feeling irritable or restless
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting the rumble strip along the shoulder of the road.

The Be Safe in Massachusetts initiative offers tips for avoiding the kind of fatigue that can lead to drowsy driving accidents:

  • Drive during regular waking hours. Midnight to 6 a.m., when the body’s need for sleep is the greatest, is the most likely time for a drowsy driving accident to occur.
  • Prepare by getting enough sleep. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Teenagers need more, with 8.5 to 9.5 hours each night necessary to be appropriately refreshed.
  • Don’t consume alcohol or sedating medications. In addition to impairing your driving ability, alcohol is a sedative, as are many over-the-counter medicines, such as antihistamines. Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs – including legal drugs – is also illegal in Massachusetts.
  • Schedule breaks during a long trip. Stop, get out and stretch your legs for several minutes every two hours or 100 miles.
  • Share driving duties. Particularly on a trip, it’s safer to have a travel companion who can talk to you as you drive to break up the wearying monotony of the drive and who can drive part of the way.
  • Don’t drive when drowsy. If you experience any of the symptoms above, stop at a rest area or somewhere else safe and rest for 20 minutes or more. If you can, end your trip for the day or wait until you’ve had several hours of sleep before continuing.
  • Don’t fight it. Winding down the window, turning up the radio, and similar tricks don’t work. If you are fatigued or drowsy, the only safe thing to do is to stop and get the rest you need.

It’s useful to remember that if you cause a wreck because you were drowsy and did not take the safe course of action, you could suffer severe consequences.

Fatigued and drowsy driving accidents are often high impact collisions because a driver who is nodding off or asleep at the wheel fails to apply brakes before the collision. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says the level of impairment experienced after 24 hours without sleep equates with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent, which is higher than the legal limit for a DWI conviction. In addition to your own potentially catastrophic injuries, you will be accountable for injuries inflicted upon others due to your recklessness.

Investigating Accidents Caused by Drowsy Drivers in Boston and Beyond

Our attorneys at Kelly & Soto Law help accident victims in the Boston area hold negligent drivers accountable. We investigate accidents and, when we recognize the potential that drowsiness contributed to an accident, we know how to pursue evidence that reveals the facts of a fatigued driving case.

We understand the dangers of drowsy driving in Boston and are serious about holding accountable those who irresponsibly continue to drive despite their fatigue. Drowsy drivers who injure others may be compelled through legal action to compensate their victims for their medical expenses, property damage, lost income, pain, suffering and more.

If you have been in an accident that may have been caused by a fatigued or drowsy driver, contact Kelly & Soto Law to discuss your legal options in a free consultation today.