Whether you're returning from a long drop off or simply going about your daily, around-town commute, you may occasionally find yourself feeling perilously sleepy while behind the wheel. In many cases, rolling down the window, turning up the radio, or taking a sip of coffee is enough to propel you into wakefulness. However, in other cases, you may be in grave danger of falling asleep behind the wheel -- which risks injuring or even killing yourself and others.
Can you be charged with a crime if you're involved in an accident caused by drowsy driving? What should you do if you feel yourself becoming sleepy? Read on to learn more about this area of personal injury law, as well as steps you can take to avoid an accident.
What laws govern drowsy driving?
Unlike drugs and alcohol, there are no at-the-scene tests that can be performed to determine if you are too sleepy to drive. Exhaustion is also difficult to quantify in a manner that can be written into a statute. However, you may find yourself facing potential criminal penalties if you've fallen asleep behind the wheel.
Many states have prescribed criminal penalties for driving after failing to get a certain amount of sleep over the past day or two. For example, in Arkansas, you can be charged with negligent homicide if you are involved in a fatal car accident after being awake for 24 hours straight. In several other states, driving while being without sleep for at least 24 hours is placed in the same category as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Not only can you be arrested for driving erratically or causing an accident, you can even face manslaughter charges if your sleepy driving results in death.
However, even if your state has not enacted drowsy driving laws, you may still find yourself answering to a judge if your drowsy driving has caused an accident. If it is determined your lack of sleep was a direct contributor to the accident, you may be sued in civil court. Not only can a judgment require you to pay any medical expenses or lost wages for the injured party, you may also be subject to punitive damages as a result of your reckless driving.
Finally, you may find yourself searching for affordable insurance coverage after your conviction or judgment. Just as it is difficult for individuals who have a history of driving under the influence to obtain insurance, so is it difficult to find insurance if you have ever been charged with or convicted of reckless driving.
What should you do if you find yourself nodding off behind the wheel?
Although most states that have enacted drowsy driving laws have set 24 hours without sleep as the threshold for a charge of drowsy driving, this does not mean that it is necessarily safe for you to drive if you have gotten only a couple of hours of sleep in the last day. Once you begin feeling sleepy, you are in danger of nodding off -- and depending on the circumstances of the last 24 hours, you may still be charged with a crime if you are involved in an accident
If you're in an area where it is unsafe to pull over to the shoulder of the road, find the nearest parking lot or other safe location. You may wish to either take a short nap and continue on your way once you are feeling refreshed, or call a friend or loved one to come pick you up. Don't rely on brief pick-me-ups like caffeine to help -- although this may help you feel more alert, your reaction time is still dulled due to lack of sleep.
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