How Does Driver Fatigue Increase the Risk of a Car Accident?


Some of the most serious car accidents are entirely preventable. While drunk driving and distracted driving are among the most common examples of unsafe driving behaviors that are known to cause car accidents, drowsy driving is just as dangerous. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, motorists who only get between five and six hours of sleep in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to get into a car accident. The risk increases substantially with each hour of lost sleep.

Extreme drowsiness can cause motorists to fall asleep at the wheel. However, drowsy driving is dangerous under any circumstance, even if you do not actually fall asleep while driving. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), drowsy driving actually has a similar impact on the body as alcohol. For example, drowsy motorists have a slower reaction time, they are less aware of hazards, and they are less able to keep their attention focused on the road. In addition, when a motorist drives after being awake for 18 consecutive hours or more, it has the same impact on the body as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 percent. Being awake for 24 hours or more is comparable to having a BAC of 0.10 percent.

What Are the Main Causes of Drowsy Driving?

There are a number of factors that cause drowsiness. The following are some of the most common causes of drowsy driving:

  • Lack of sleep: This is the leading cause of drowsiness during the daytime hours. It is recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. However, a large percentage of adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis.
  • Sleep disorders: One of the most common sleep disorders that can cause drowsy driving is obstructive sleep apnea. Conditions like this cause the person’s sleep to be restricted, interrupted, and less restorative. When undiagnosed or untreated, sleep disorders can cause extreme daytime drowsiness.
  • Medications: There are a wide range of medications that can cause drowsiness, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, sleep aids, and dietary supplements. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist when taking any medication to confirm whether it is known to cause drowsiness.
  • Alcohol: In addition to causing impaired coordination, a slower reaction time, and impacting your ability to make smart decisions, alcohol also causes drowsiness.
  • Shift work: If you work irregular hours, it can be difficult to get the recommended hours of sleep, particularly if you work night shifts. This can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. When the sleep cycle is disrupted on a regular basis, it can lead to extreme fatigue.

What Are the Signs of Fatigue?

One of the reasons that drowsy driving is so dangerous is that the signs of fatigue often appear gradually. However, just because you are not falling asleep at the wheel does not mean that you are not suffering from fatigue. Even mild signs of drowsiness can increase the risk of a serious drowsy driving accident. Common signs of driver fatigue include:

  • Frequent yawning.
  • Tired, droopy eyes.
  • Difficulty maintaining a proper speed.
  • Drifting into other lanes or hitting the rumble strips on the road.
  • Dozing off.
  • Following other vehicles too closely.
  • Difficulty remembering the past few miles that you drove.
  • Missing your exit.

Who Is Most Likely to Drive While Drowsy?

Drowsy driving is common because it is not generally considered as serious as drunk driving, distracted driving, speeding, and other unsafe driving behaviors. The following motorists are more likely to drive while drowsy:

  • Motorists who do not get the recommended hours of sleep per night.
  • Commercial truck drivers.
  • Shift workers.
  • Motorists who have untreated sleep disorders.
  • Driver who take medication that causes drowsiness.
  • Male drivers.
  • Drivers between 16 and 24 years old.

How Can I Avoid a Drowsy Driving Accident?

Getting enough sleep on a daily basis is important, not only for your overall health, but to ensure that you are able to maintain control of your car and avoid getting into a serious accident. The following are proactive steps you can take to get enough sleep and reduce the risk of a drowsy driving car accident:

  • Get enough sleep. Adults generally need at least seven hours of sleep per day, and adolescents require eight or more hours of sleep.
  • Develop good sleeping habits. Go to bed at roughly the same time each night.
  • Recognize the signs of drowsiness and avoid driving.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take medications that cause drowsiness. Mixing alcohol with medications can intensify feelings of drowsiness.
  • Talk to your doctor if you think you might have a sleep disorder. Symptoms of sleep apnea may include feeling sleepy during the day and snoring at night.
  • Avoid driving at night if at all possible.
  • If you start to feel fatigued while driving, pull over to a safe spot and rest or get some fresh air.
  • If you are driving a long distance, share the driving responsibilities if there is another licensed driver in the car. Take turns driving every couple of hours.
  • Coffee, soda, or other caffeinated beverages are a quick fix, but keep in mind that it takes approximately 30 minutes for the caffeine to enter the bloodstream.

Wilmington Car Accident Lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow Advocate for Clients Injured in Drowsy Driving Car Accidents

If you have been seriously injured in a car accident involving a drowsy driver, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer. Our Wilmington car accident lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow will investigate the details of your case. Call us at (302) 427-9500 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Bear, and Milford, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Middletown, Dover, Milford, Lewes, Rehoboth, Elsmere, and Seaford


Delaware Injury Lawyers

R & M Lawyers
Rhoades & Morrow

Our attorneys provide exceptional legal service with a personal touch. Since our founding in 1990, we have helped thousands of Delaware citizens obtain full and just compensation for personal injury claims. We have gained an excellent reputation as the “go to” law firm. Let us put our decades of experience to work for you.

Skip to content