Most people are well aware that driving while intoxicated significantly increases your chances of getting into a vehicle accident. An equally concerning issue that's just as dangerous as intoxicated driving is people who get on the road when they're too tired to operate vehicles safely. Driving while drowsy accounts for 100,000 collisions per year. Unlike drunk or drugged driving, though, it can be challenging proving someone was operating a vehicle while tired. If your claim for damages involves showing the other party was driving while drowsy, here are two ways you can do it.
Show Warning Signs Exhibited at the Scene
It's fairly easy to prove a person was driving intoxicated. If police suspect drugs or alcohol was involved, they'll administer a breathalyzer or take the individual to the hospital to have blood drawn and tested. You can request a copy of those results from the police or prosecutor's office and use them to help bolster your civil case.
Unfortunately, there is no official test to determine if someone was driving tired, so you'll have to depend on visual cues to find out the person's state of mind. Surprisingly, fatigue shares a lot of the same symptoms as intoxication. The person may
- Have puffy, bloodshot eyes
- Have poor motor skills
- Space out or stare off into the distance
- Slur their speech
- Yawn frequently
- Nod off
- Have poor memory; be unable to remember the last few miles driven
- Be unable to focus
While on the road, the person may have missed traffic signs, drifted between lanes or hit a rumble strip, or tailgated vehicles in front of them. All of these cues can be used to build a case that the person was, at minimum, not cognizant enough to drive safely.
It should be noted, though, that everyone shows fatigue differently. Additionally, many people experience a surge of adrenaline when they're involved in an accident, which may make the signs of fatigue dissipate immediately. Therefore, these specific signs may not be evident. However, it's a good idea to make note of an errant behavior the individual displays while at the accident scene.
Introduce Evidence of Defendant's Sleep Disorders or Medication
In a personal injury lawsuit, there is a process of discovery that lets people obtain evidence from the other party using questionnaires, depositions, and document requests. Using this process, it may be possible to uncover whether the defendant has a sleep disorder or takes medication that causes drowsiness as a side effect. You can then use this information to show the defendant was driving in a drowsy state at the time of the accident.
For instance, up to 18 million people in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. This is a medical condition where a person stops breathing during sleep for short periods of time, typically due to oral obstructions. When a person stops breathing, the brain wakes him or her up to take in air. This can happen repeatedly during the night. Since they don't get the restful sleep they require, people with sleep apnea typically experience fatigue on a constant basis, which can lead to vehicle accidents. In fact, according to some studies, a person with sleep apnea is 2.5 times more likely to get into a crash.
Medication can also cause people to become drowsy while on the road. Certain pain medications, anti-anxiety medicines, anti-histamines, and anti-depressants can make people abnormally sleepy. This is why many of these prescription drugs have warnings advising users not to operate vehicles or heavy machinery after taking the medication.
All of this information can be used to support your claim the driver was drowsy or even fell asleep at the wheel and caused the accident, making him or her liable for the crash. For more information about this issue or assistance with gathering evidence for your case, contact an auto accident lawyer.