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Wakeup Call: Drowsy Driving Can Be Deadly

reflection of a man in a rear-view mirror yawning in his car because is so tired

A driver who fell asleep behind the wheel of his pickup truck, lost control of the vehicle, and was sent flying into an unoccupied toll plaza last month in New Hampshire did not suffer any injuries or harm anyone else in the crash, state police say.

According to a report by NECN, the 39-year-old man was driving northbound on Route 16 toward the Rochester toll plaza around 4 a.m. when he fell asleep at the wheel, collided with a concrete abutment in front of the toll plaza, and went airborne right into the toll booth. No charges have been filed as a result of the crash, and police did not give a reason why the man fell asleep.

As experienced car accident lawyers who have handled plenty of cases involving sleepy drivers in New Hampshire, it's extremely fortunate that no one was seriously injured or killed in this crash. Here's what you should know.

The dangers of drowsy driving

Drowsy driving is a risky behavior that on average causes more than 80,000 crashes, 35,000 injuries, and hundreds of fatalities every year, according to crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA reports 697 deaths from drowsy driving in 2019, though that number is likely much higher because drowsy driving is often underreported by law enforcement agencies.

A problem in New Hampshire and across the United States, drowsy drivers are those who operate a motor vehicle while feeling sleepy or fatigued. Common among those who work the night shift or long hours, those who don't get enough sleep, and commercial drivers (e.g., tow truck drivers, truckers, bus drivers), drowsy driving impairs your ability to operate a motor vehicle the same way as driving under the influence of alcohol.

Studies have shown that along with cognitive impairment, going without sleep for 18 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. For those that stay awake for at least 24 hours, it's equivalent to having a BAC of 0.10%. Keep in mind that the legal limit in every state is 0.08%—meaning getting enough rest before getting behind the wheel of a car is just as important as making sure you're sober.

What should you do if you feel drowsy while driving?

If you're yawning, blinking frequently, having trouble remembering the last few miles you've driven, missing turns or exits, drifting in and out of your lane, or hitting rumble strips, these are all telltale signs that you're too tired to be driving a motor vehicle. If you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is change drivers or find a safe place to pull over and nap for 15 to 20 minutes. Simply blasting the radio or opening your car's windows is not an effective way to combat drowsiness while you're driving.

Here are some other tips you can follow to stay alert and avoid driving drowsy.

Get enough sleep

Experts recommend getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night to avoid drowsiness, and one of the best ways to do that is by developing and sticking to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. On the weekends, you should limit the difference in your sleep schedule to no more than an hour, if possible. Adequate sleep is always important, but even more so before a long road trip as long periods of driving can be tiring and magnify the effects of drowsiness. Teenage drivers are also prone to not getting enough sleep, which is a problem because they are at a point in their lives where their biological need for sleep has increased. Always advise your teen to avoid driving if they haven't had enough rest.

Don't drink and drive

Alcohol can affect your driving by slowing down your reaction time, impairing your perception, interfering with your ability to concentrate, negatively impacting your ability to make decisions, and causing erratic emotions. It also can cause you to blackout or fall asleep at the wheel, and if you're already feeling tired, even a small amount of alcohol can increase drowsiness and impairment.

Check your medications and talk to your pharmacist

Certain medications can have side effects that severely impair your ability to drive, which is why you should avoid getting behind the wheel until you check the label to see if your prescriptions or over-the-counter medications cause drowsiness and other adverse effects. Along with drowsiness, some drugs may cause blurred vision, dizziness, slowed movement, fainting, nausea, excitability, and the inability to focus—all things that diminish your driving ability. If you aren't sure about a medication, check with your pharmacist to see if it's safe to drive after using it. If you do take medications that cause drowsiness or other side effects and you need to drive, make other arrangements. You can use public transportation, ask someone to drive you, or use a rideshare service.

Get treatment if you have a sleep disorder or problems with sleep

If you have insomnia, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, or some other type of sleep disorder, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options. Snoring, feeling tired during the day, and excessive yawning can be signs of a sleep disorder, so be sure to get checked out by a physician if you're experiencing these symptoms. Drivers with untreated sleep disorders pose a risk to themselves and everyone else on the road.

Avoid driving during peak drowsy driving times

Drowsy drivers and those who fall asleep at the wheel typically do so between midnight and 6 a.m., as well as the late afternoon. During this time, your body's circadian rhythm—that is, the internal clock that regulates your sleep—takes a dip. If you're out on the road during these "peak sleepiness periods," watch for motorists who are weaving over roadway lines or hitting rumble strips, as these could be signs that the driver is fatigued or asleep at the wheel. Statistics also show that most drowsy driving crashes occur on rural roads and highways, so use extra caution when driving on these types of roadways.

Drink caffeine for a quick boost

This is only a short-term fix to help you feel more alert. If you're not getting enough rest or you're severely sleep-deprived, you're still at risk of losing consciousness for a few seconds (commonly referred to as "micro sleeps"), even if you have been drinking coffee, tea, or energy drinks. Experts say to drink one or two cups of coffee and pull over for a 20-minute nap in a safe location if you start to feel sleepy while you're driving. Again, that's just a short-term fix, but studies have shown that taking a brief nap can help increase your alertness for a short period of time.

Know your legal rights if you've been injured in a crash

If you were injured or a loved one died in a crash caused by a drowsy driver in Dover, Portsmouth, or anywhere in New Hampshire, hiring a car accident lawyer is one of the easiest paths to justice and full compensation for your losses. As your attorney, we can launch a comprehensive investigation into your crash, get to the bottom of what happened, build a compelling case, and fight for every dollar you're entitled to.

Contact us today to learn your legal options during a free and confidential consultation. There are no obligations, and we offer legal representation on a contingency fee basis. That means you don't need any upfront money to hire us and we only get paid if we secure financial compensation on your behalf. See what our law firm can do for you. Call or email us right now.

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