Drowsy driving responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries

Many Americans are chronically sleep-deprived, and a large amount of them regularly get behind the wheel. This causes numerous accidents each year.

At any time of the day or night, California drivers may share the road with someone who is too sleep-deprived to safely drive. Despite the risks, many drivers across the country get behind the wheel when they should be under the covers instead. Some people regularly drive on too little sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of drivers surveyed said they had driven drowsy at some point during the past year. More than a third of them admitted to having fallen asleep while driving. Out of these, 4 percent said they had been in a wreck or a near miss because they were too fatigued or dozed off behind the wheel.

Facts about drowsy driving

About 100,000 motor vehicle collisions occur as a result of drowsy driving in the United States every year, resulting in around 1,500 fatalities and 71,000 injuries - all entirely preventable if people would not drive while sleepy. Some of the common factors surrounding drowsy driving accidents include the following:

• Fatigue may cause a normally calm driver to feel stressed and impatient and to speed.

• Younger drivers are the least likely to pull over and take a nap when needed, but the most likely to drive drowsy.

• The risk of falling asleep behind the wheel increases on long, featureless, high-speed rural roads.

• Most crashes and near misses attributed to fatigue happen just after midnight, in the hours before dawn and between 4:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon.

The National Conference of State Legislatures points out that some states have passed laws that treat drowsy driving similar to drunk driving, and other states are considering drowsy driving laws. California, however, has no specific laws against drowsy driving.

Avoiding a drowsy driving accident

It may be possible for drivers to reduce the risk of being injured or killed in accidents related to fatigue by making smart decisions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most obvious of these is to be adequately rested before driving. It may also help to pull over at a rest stop or safe spot at the side of the road to take a quick nap if a long road trip is causing drowsiness. Getting out every hour or so and stretching the legs can also stave off sleepiness. Drivers also should not drive while under the influence of medications that increase sleepiness.

An accident in Riverside illustrated how quickly a drowsy driving accident can occur, as well as the devastating results. The Press-Enterprise reported that one early morning last March, the driver of a vehicle fell asleep, drifted off the road and hit a light pole. The car's passenger was critically injured as the pole fell on top of the car.

Taking precautions and driving courteously may prevent accidents, but avoiding all accidents isn't always possible, especially when other drivers are concerned. If a drowsy driver caused someone else's injuries, the victim may be eligible for compensation and may wish to speak with a personal injury attorney.