Few Tennessee drivers would think of getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, but the results of a recent American Automobile Association survey suggest that about one in three of people have driven while dangerously fatigued within the last month. Going without sleep for 24 hours impairs a driver as much as five shots of whisky, yet study after study shows that motorists are willing to take this risk even when they are aware of it.
Drowsy driving is underreported because accident investigators have no reliable way to determine that a driver was fatigued when they crashed. When AAA researchers studied dashboard camera footage recorded in the seconds before a collision, they noticed signs of drowsiness in almost one in 10 of the drivers. The problem may be so widespread because the steps drivers take to combat it simply do not work. Opening a window or turning up the radio has virtually no effect on fatigue levels, and drinking a cup of coffee only increases alertness for a short time.
Getting enough sleep is the only proven way to avoid drowsiness behind the wheel, but even seven hours of rest may not be sufficient for individuals who suffer from medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea. Taking certain medications such as over-the-counter cold or flu remedies can also cause dangerous levels of fatigue in drivers who have enjoyed a good night's sleep.
When the car accident that injured their clients may have been caused by a drowsy driver, experienced personal injury attorneys may use subpoenas to obtain medical records that could reveal medications with narcotic side effects. Drowsy drivers are rarely prosecuted because proving fatigue beyond reasonable doubt is difficult, but civil lawsuits are decided based upon the preponderance of the evidence. Juries may believe that fatigue more likely than not played a role when accidents occurred during the early morning hours, which might be enough to establish negligence in a civil trial.