Asleep at the Wheel

February 23, 2016

Two prominent national groups are taking a very close look at drowsy driving and its impact on car crashes in South Carolina.

In a recent study, researchers at AAA found that a third of all drivers admitted that they had made at least one trip in the last thirty days when they were so tired they had difficulty keeping their eyes open. The study estimated that about one in four fatal crashes involves fatigued driving.

Meanwhile, in connection with Drowsy Driving Awareness Week last November, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency announced that it would conduct its own landmark study in this area.

Fatigued Driving

This issue has not been studied much in the United States, but researchers in Australia and Europe estimate that drowsy driving is a factor in up to a third of all injury car crashes, placing it alongside speeding and intoxication. Many officers are not trained to recognize the symptoms of fatigue, and even if they were, a serious crash is definitely a jolt to a sleepy driver. Moreover, police reports have very inconsistent labels for fatigued driving as a factor in the crash, and several states do not even list it at all.

To cope with drowsiness, some drivers turn on the radio or roll down the windows. While these tricks, and others like them, may help drivers feel somewhat more alert, they do nothing to address the underlying fatigue and the impairment that it creates. In fact, according to researchers, driving after 18 consecutive waking hours is the equivalent of a .05 BAC; after 24 awake hours, the equivalency rises to .10, which is above the legal limit almost everywhere in the world.

Duty in a Car Crash Case

Drowsy driving is a conditional breach of duty. People who have been drinking or are taking certain medicines should not be driving; likewise, people who did not sleep well the night before, are shift workers whose hours recently changed, or had a long day at the office are in no condition to drive.

The American concept of “duty” largely comes from the 1932 English case of Donoghue v. Stevenson. That dispute involved a woman at a Scottish café who poured a bottle of ginger beer over ice cream only to discover a dead and decomposed snail in the bottom of the bottle. She sued the beer manufacturer for damages asserting that it was negligent in bottling the beverage.

“Duty” was a relatively unknown concept at the time. In finding for the woman, Lord Atkin formulated the “neighbour test.”

The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes in law you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ receives a restricted reply. You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour. Who then in law is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.

American courts created the duty of reasonable care, and the foundation of negligence law, based on the neighbour test.

Partner with an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Drowsy drivers routinely cause serious crashes on area roadways. For a free consultation with a diligent personal injury attorney in Charleston, contact David Aylor Law Offices. We do not charge upfront legal fees in a tort case.

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