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Drowsy driving among America's less-discussed road hazards

Of the many types of driver impairments, one is not discussed nearly as much as it should be. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drowsy driving is responsible for one out of every eight highway fatalities in the United States. Unlike drunk driving and distracted driving, however, there have been few public awareness campaigns about the dangers of driving drowsy.

The issue did receive quite a bit of news coverage earlier this summer when a fatigued truck driver struck and seriously injured comedian Tracy Morgan on his drive back to New York. But drowsy driving accidents are far more common than media coverage would suggest, and they are often fatal.

As just one example, a 19-year-old Pennsylvania woman was charged with vehicular manslaughter earlier this month in connection with a fatal car accident that occurred in April. While driving home from an overnight shift at her retail job, she crossed into oncoming traffic and struck another vehicle head-on. The 65-year-old woman in the other vehicle died a short time later.

The young woman had likely fallen asleep just prior to the crash, according to news sources. She had allegedly only slept about three hours in the 24 leading up to the crash. She is a student at a community college, which could have contributed to her lack of sleep.

A state trooper discovered the woman’s cellphone in her vehicle when he responded to the scene, and some messages were later read aloud in court. A text message she sent before the crash said: "I'm so tired … I told them I won't remember driving home. That's happened to me before."

Did this woman have ill intent and is she a bad person? Almost certainly not. But evidence strongly suggests that she was driving while dangerously impaired and another driver was killed because of her decision to do so. In that respect, this crash can hardly be called an “accident.”

Drowsy driving is a serious and sometimes fatal hazard. After an accident, criminal charges against the at-fault driver may or may not be appropriate. In either case, families of victims might wish to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.

Source: The Morning Call, “Witnesses: Drowsy driving caused fatal Rt. 145 crash,” Laurie Mason Schroeder, Aug. 6, 2014

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