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Drowsy Driving - California DUI Law and Legal Information

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Sleepiness and driving is a dangerous combination. Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but donít realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. Like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases your risk of crashing.

Driving While DrowsyEven though drowsy driving sounds harmless enough, it is considered extremely dangerous, and can trigger criminal charges and civil lawsuits. In California, driving while drowsy is considered reckless driving - a serious charge with heavy consequences. Anyone charged with reckless driving should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn how the charge can be defended.

Drowsy driving impairs reaction time, information processing, and the ability to pay attention while driving. The ultimate impact is sometimes the inability to resist falling asleep behind the wheel. Drowsiness can lead to collisions caused by impairment of the driver's physical and mental faculties.

Unlike alcohol intoxication, there are no objective, measurable standards for drowsy driving. However, an accident related to sleepiness often has some or all of the following characteristics:

  • The crash occurs during late night, early morning or midafternoon.
  • The impact is severe.
  • The accident involves a single vehicle.
  • The collision occurs on a high-speed roadway.
  • The driver makes no attempt to avoid the accident.
  • The motorist is alone in the vehicle.

All human beings have a basic biological need to sleep. Missing just one night of sleep can bring extreme drowsiness. Drivers who consistently lose just one or two hours of sleep a night can suffer from chronic fatigue. There is only one cure, and it doesn’t need a doctor’s prescription: Sleep is the most effective way to reduce drowsiness.

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Studies suggest that certain factors increase the chances for an accident caused by a drowsy driver. A combination of these factors substantially increases crash risk. These include:

  • Sleep loss
  • Driving between midnight and 6 a.m., driving many miles each day or each year, driving in the midafternoon hours, especially for older persons, and driving for long periods of time without a break.
  • Use of certain medications, including prescribed hypnotics, certain antidepressants, and some antihistamines
  • Untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.
  • Consumption of alcohol, which interacts with and adds to drowsiness.

Three population groups have greater susceptibility to driving while drowsy. Studies done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that those most at risk include:

  • Young people ages 16 to 29, especially young men.
  • Shift workers who work at night or who have long or irregular hours.
  • People with untreated sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.

Getting sufficient sleep, avoiding even small amounts of alcohol when sleepy, and, if possible, staying off the road between midnight and 6 a.m. can all reduce the risk of a drowsy driving accident.

It is critically important to stop driving as soon as the motorist becomes sleepy, either by allowing a passenger to drive or stopping to get some sleep. Taking a 15 to 20 minute nap and drinking coffee or another caffeinated beverage can help, but these are short-term solutions. The only truly safe course of action is to get a significant amount of sleep.

Driving while drowsy, reckless driving, DUI, and driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) are all serious criminal offenses that require expert legal help. A California criminal defense lawyer who is well-versed in these types of cases will develop an aggressive strategy to fight criminal charges and help drivers avoid serious repercussions.

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