In today’s society, one commonality seems to be the high degree of sleep deprivation that exists all throughout America. The fact is, Americans are now working longer than ever. With the Internet and cell phones, the separation between work and personal life has eroded for many. In general, most of us need a lot more sleep than we are getting, according to the medical profession.
Sleep deprivation has long been known to be a significant factor in many vehicle crashes, particularly the long-haul trucking industry. Historically, truck drivers would often drive for long periods of time on little or no sleep. Some truck drivers even resorted to measures such as the heavy intake of coffee and “pep” pills so that they could drive longer with less sleep.
Financially, the ability to drive long periods with little or no sleep was rewarded with higher paychecks, as most truckers are compensated based upon the number of miles driven. In other words, because truckers don’t earn money unless they are driving, there has been a strong incentive for them to drive, even if they are very tired.
As a result of horrific crashes caused by truck drivers driving on little sleep, the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration enacted rules and regulations that not only required truckers to have specifically-designated rest periods, they also enacted rules and regulations prohibiting any alcohol use with any prescribed number of hours prior to driving, as well as prohibiting “pep” pills prior to or during driving.
As a result of these rules and regulations, crashes caused by sleep deprived truck drivers have been reduced. However, some truck drivers ignore these rules and regulations (and falsify their logbooks) in order to drive more hours than are allowed. Therefore, in any accident involving a commercial truck driver, it will be critical to examine the physical or electronic logbook some truckers in order to determine whether they followed the required rest periods, as well as whether they followed other regulations, such as those pertaining to ensuring that loads were properly inspected at specific times.
The rules and regulations requiring rest for truckers do not apply to non—commercial drivers. For instance, there is nothing to stop a non-commercial driver for trying to drive across the United States on no sleep while consuming massive amounts of coffee.
Obviously, trying to do this would be very dangerous. After a certain amount of time, our brain naturally will begin to shut down, even if we try to postpone this process through caffeine.
In a vehicle crash investigation, it may be important to understand what the driver was doing in the several days leading up to the crash. While the driver may not be under a legal regulation not to drive if they are sleep deprived, they are nonetheless under a legal obligation to drive safely; otherwise, they can be held liable in civil court for damages and compensation for any and all damages that they cause.
If it is found, for example, that a driver was severely sleep deprived at the time of a crash, such sleep deprivation can be used as evidence of liability for crash causation. In other words, if a driver rear-ends a person or causes an accident by veering into another lane or running a red light, showing that the driver was severely sleep deprived will be additional evidence of their culpability, much as if it can be shown that a driver was drunk can be shown to prove that the driver disregarded normal obligations to drive safely.
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