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Drowsy Driving and the Law

Drowsy Driving and the Law

We’ve all done it at some point: pushing through fatigue to keep driving despite the risk of falling asleep and causing an accident. Every year drowsy driving causes hundreds of fatalities and many more non-fatal injuries throughout the country. A tired driver can fall asleep for intervals as short as a few seconds, which is enough time for an accident to occur.

How Nevada law handles drowsy driving

A few states have enacted legislation that specifically addresses fatigued driving. For example, in New Jersey someone who drives after not sleeping for 24 hours is deemed to be a reckless driver and treated in the same way as someone who is driving while intoxicated. N.J. Stat. § 2C:11-5(a). Nevada has not enacted such a law, and the example from New Jersey suggests why. New Jersey’s measure of fatigue—24 hours without sleep—is an extreme case that doesn’t come close to capturing the full range of tired drivers. Legislating for ordinary tiredness is difficult and would be hard to enforce.

As a practical matter what the lack of specific laws means is that a tired driver is held to the same standard that applies to all drivers. Every driver on Nevada’s roads has a range of legal duties. These include obeying traffic laws and rules, such as following signs and complying with signals. Drivers must give pedestrians right-of-way. And all drivers owe a general duty of care to operate their vehicles in a reasonable way to protect pedestrians, other drivers, and personal property on and around the roadway. Driving while fatigued is arguably an unreasonably dangerous way to operate a car.

Breaching any of these duties can be a basis for a claim of negligence against the driver. Someone who is found liable for negligence will be responsible for paying medical bills and other damages to injured parties. Even if the driver’s insurance covers some of these expenses, the driver can expect to have long-term financial consequences as a result of the accident.

In extreme cases fatigued driving may also be a crime. If a fatigued driver falls asleep and causes an accident that leads to someone’s death, the driver may be charged with vehicular manslaughter, a crime punishable by jail time and a suspended or revoked driver’s license. NRS 484B.657.

Pull over, rest, or change drivers

The essential thing to bear in mind about drowsy driving is that it’s very difficult to overcome sleepiness without taking a real break. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends pulling over to take a 20-minute nap as a good short-term solution for fatigue. It’s better to switch drivers if possible.

For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has helped victims of car accidents recover compensation for their injuries. If you have been injured in an accident with a driver who was asleep at the wheel and you have questions about your legal options, our attorneys can help. To speak to an attorney at no cost, please give us a call today at 702-388-4476. We can also be reached through our contacts page.