When it comes to reducing drowsy driving accidents, safety experts and law enforcement officials face a difficult task. Commercial truck drivers are limited to driving no more than 11 hours in a day. They are required by federal law to have 10 hours off between shifts. The hours of service requirements are intended to reduce or eliminate semi-truck accidents caused by tired drivers. Nothing, however, can force truck drivers to use their down time to get proper rest. Every driver is left to their own recognizance in deciding when they are too tired to drive.
Drowsy driving accidents are a serious problem on American roads. Federal statistics tracking highway deaths attributed more than 11,000 deaths to drowsy driving from 2000 to 2010. The drivers who killed people while driving drunk during that period faced stiff criminal penalties. But drowsy drivers may receive no punishment, or simply a small fine despite driving with reduced reflexes and endangering the lives of others. The situation is challenging for prosecutors.
New Jersey passed a law specifically geared toward drowsy drivers. No other state has such a law. Even under the New Jersey law, a person must have been awake for more than 24 consecutive hours to establish the requisite level of recklessness. That means that a person who took a 20-minute nap during a 48-hour period could escape the boundaries of the law. Proving that person has been awake for 24 consecutive hours is also no easy matter.
It should not take criminal punishment to deter people from driving drowsy. A tired driver risks his or her own life, as well as the lives of everyone on the roads when behind the wheel. Safe driving requires that if your eyelids are drooping, you should not be driving.
Source: Associated Press, “Drowsy Driving Remains An Elusive Highway Dilemma,” by Frank Eltman, 11 May 2013