“Fatigued and drowsy driving is impaired driving”: this is the position the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took to expand the definition of “impaired driving”. Besides referring to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they have added distracted, fatigued, or drowsy driving to the definition. Not all drivers use alcohol, drugs, or are distracted while driving, but all drivers have to rest in order to stay awake and be alert. We must think about this topic, which present risks to everyone on the road.
The decision to drive or continue driving despite being very tired and sleepy can be fatal. A fatigued and drowsy driver is a dangerous driver; lack of sleep negatively affects a driver’s reflexes and concentration. Generally a driver who has been awake for an extended period of time will experience similar symptoms as those who have consumed alcohol or drugs. For example, a driver who has been awake for 18 continuous hours has similar symptoms as a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 percent; after 21 to 24 hours without sleep, the symptoms are equivalent to a BAC level of 0.08 and 0.10 percent respectively. However, unlike drunk drivers, there is no objective test to help authorities determine if an accident was caused by a fatigued and drowsy driver.
According to the NHTSA, around 328,000 accidents happen on U.S. highways annually that injure 109,000 people and kill approximately 6,400 from drowsy driving. It is also estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of commercial truck accidents are caused by fatigue and lack of sleep.
It is impossible to resist sleep because the body demands it and after working for 24 hours, it is necessary to rest. Fatigue is the result of prolonged physical work such as driving for a long time or driving after working for large periods of time. When a driver is very tired it creates tension between his body’s resistance to drive and the need to keep driving. When this happens, it is difficult for the driver to keep his eyes open and head up, decreasing his attention drastically and putting his life and the lives of others on the road in danger. This is not a new problem, but it is serious one in our country. With this first step, the NHTSA is preparing to fix it; however surely it will take some years to implement.