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The Dangers and Consequences of Drunk or Drowsy Driving

How Are Drunk and Drowsy Driving Similar?

Despite decades of law enforcement efforts and public awareness campaigns, more than 10,500 people die every year in drunk driving accidents, demonstrating just what a problem drunk driving remains in our society. Drowsy driving is also a highly dangerous activity, one that causes at least 13% of accidents every year, with 4% of all drivers admitting to falling asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days. There is also an increasing body of case law that demonstrates that a driver who knowingly operates a car despite being too tired to do so may face major civil penalties.

The Dangers of Drowsy and Drink Driving

From a physical perspective, alcohol interferes with the way that your brain communicates with the rest of your body. This can have multiple physical impacts, including a loss of coordination, slowed reaction time, communication difficulties, memory challenges, cognitive impairment, and more. This, in turn, can lead to huge impairment when it comes to driving as all of the above systems are needed to operate a motor vehicle safely.

However, drowsy driving can also potentially create a major danger to yourself or to others on the road. As noted by the experts at the Centers for Disease Control, drowsy driving can often have impacts on your body that are similar to the impacts of drunk driving. Drowsy driving can damage your attention span, slow your reaction time, and impact your ability to make appropriate driving decisions while operating your car. All of this can make you a more dangerous driver.

Unfortunately, this appears to be a growing problem. As more and more Americans report getting less sleep, this is a number that is likely to continue to climb.

The Similarities

There are some surprising overlaps between drunk driving and drowsy driving. Both can inhibit your body's ability to operate a car, impair your judgment, and potentially make you more of a danger to yourself and others while on the road.

Is one worse than the other? Studies have yielded surprising results. According to the Centers for Disease Control, tests have revealed that someone who has been awake for 18 straight hours can experience major impairment, potentially making that person drive with the same ability and reaction time as a person who has a blood alcohol content of .05% - a level that is illegal to drive with in many states. If the same person is still up six hours later, their driving habits will degrade to the point that they are driving as if they have a blood alcohol content of 0.1%. This level is illegal to drive with anywhere in the United States.

Clearly, these are frightening implications. What is even worse is that driving drowsy is not just related to someone not sleeping for a certain time period. Unlike alcohol, there is no "standard" way of determining if someone has enough sleep. That is determined based on each person's experience while driving and each person's body chemistry. As such, it truly does come down to personal responsibility and each person making sure they get enough sleep before operating a motor vehicle.

Legal Implications

The legal implications of driving while under the influence are clear. A first-time offender will typically face a loss of license, fines, and community service. Repeated offenses can result in a longer loss of driving privileges, larger fines, and jail time. All of these consequences will increase if you injure someone else while driving drunk, and you could face an extended period of time in jail if you kill someone while driving under the influence.

Driving while under the influence laws vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, the criminal penalties you will face vary based on a variety of factors. The two most important ones are just how high your blood alcohol level is and whether or not you have faced any previous arrests. If your blood alcohol content was lower than 0.099% and you were never previously arrested, you will likely face a fine, probation, and the chance to participate in accelerated rehabilitative disposition, which will allow you to have your arrest discharged from your record.

However, penalties will increase based on how high your blood alcohol content is and whether or not you had previously been arrested. For example, you could be looking at prison time if you have a blood alcohol content higher than 0.16% even if you had never been arrested.

The potential implications of driving drowsy in Pennsylvania are less clear. There is no explicit law requiring that you get a certain amount of sleep and no test to determine if you are too drowsy to drive. It is difficult to determine whether or not someone would face any sort of criminal penalties for causing an accident while driving drowsy.

There are also easy ways to test for driving while under the influence of alcohol as many tests exist that can determine a person’s blood alcohol content. However, no such tests exist for drowsy driving. This lack of standards presents additional safety challenges. Most people know not to drive after consuming a certain amount of alcohol, but the same cannot be said for someone who doesn’t get enough sleep.

There is also the possibility of civil penalties if you are injured by someone who is driving under the influence of any substance. If you are hurt in such an accident, you may be entitled to financial remuneration. If this happens to you, you may want to contact an attorney, depending on the impact of the accident. If you are looking for an Allentown personal injury lawyer, reach out to Metzger and Kleiner.

While lesser understood, there are also civil implications if you are hurt by someone who is driving a vehicle while drowsy. If it can be proven that someone drove drowsy and was potentially aware that they should not have been behind the wheel, you may be able to file a lawsuit against that person. First, it's important to discuss the case with an experienced Allentown personal injury lawyer. They will be able to discuss the situation with you and determine what the next steps should be.

In order to prove any potential legal case, an attorney will likely need to obtain witness testimony, review police reports, conduct interviews with witnesses and people who knew the person in question, examine medical records, and possibly discuss the matter with an expert in the field of reaction time and sleep studies. If you do choose to pursue legal remedies that came as a result of an accident, make sure that you are able to provide as much of this content as possible.

When you are hurt in a car accident and live in eastern Pennsylvania, contact us at Metzger and Kleiner. We can help you determine your legal rights and discuss a potential legal strategy. Call us today at 610-435-7400 to set up an appointment in our Lehigh Valley office. For our Philadelphia office, you can call 215-567-6616.

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