If you drive, it’s pretty much impossible to go through life without having gotten behind the wheel while exhausted. You’ve probably never even thought twice about doing it. You’re human; you get tired. Sometimes, when you’re tired, you still have to drive—simple as that.
Did you know, though, that driving drowsy in Houston actually poses serious dangers to you and other drivers? So dangerous, in fact, that fatigue probably contributes to the cause of a substantial number of car accidents?
If your answer to those questions is “no,” we’re not surprised. Most Houston drivers have no idea about the risks they run when they drive tired, or when they share the road with other drivers who feel fatigued. That’s why we’ve decided to spend today’s blog writing about car driver fatigue in Houston: how often it happens, its consequences, and how a lawyer can help when a fatigued driver causes an accident that harms you or a loved one.
Tired in Houston? You’re Not Alone.
According to the public health researchers at County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, nearly four in 10 Houston-area adults (38%) report getting less than seven hours of sleep per night regularly. That’s less than recommended.
Sleep doctors agree that the vast majority of adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Anything less, and your mental and physical health begin to deteriorate. With insufficient sleep, you’re less alert, make poorer decisions, experience higher levels of stress, and over the long-term, will develop a host of serious and potentially deadly health complications, like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Maybe you think you’re one of those people who only need five or six hours of sleep per night. Well, we hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not. After adjusting for age, only a tiny fraction of adults can remain in good health while getting that little sleep, and they can do so thanks to a genetic mutation. Sure, lots of people think they can do without, but most simply can’t, and while they lie to themselves, they’re slowly but surely undermining their physical and mental wellbeing.
Driving Drowsy Can Prove Extremely Dangerous.
Drowsy drivers put themselves, and others, in danger when they take to the roads around Houston. How much danger? A LOT. Here’s why.
For starters, as anyone knows, bad things will happen if you fall asleep at the wheel. Your car will drift out of its lane, and you’ll likely crash into another car, a bridge abutment, a guardrail, a tree, a telephone pole, and so on. You get the idea.
You don’t need to snooze to put yourself and others at risk by driving while fatigued. Drowsiness can impair your driving abilities even if you stay awake at the wheel. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), staying awake for 18 hours straight impairs your driving abilities about the same as having a 0.05 blood alcohol content (BAC), which is just below the legal limit of 0.08, and that drivers who remain awake for 24 hours straight face the same impairment as someone who would blow a 0.10 on a breathalyzer.
You read that right. Drowsy drivers may as well be drunk drivers. Drivers experience similar forms of impairment, including:
- Slowed reaction times
- Lack of motor coordination
- Poor judgment
- Fuzzy decision-making
- Diminished visual acuity
- Distorted perception of speed and distance
As if that isn’t scary enough, drowsy drivers may also experience momentary periods of sleep, called microsleeps, without even realizing it’s happening. In the few seconds that these microsleeps take place, a car can cover a hundred yards or more at highway speed. That’s more than enough distance for something terrible to happen. Plus, microsleeps can happen over and over, as the driver fights unsuccessfully to stay awake and alert.
There’s also no quick fix for drowsiness once it sets in. Caffeine and other stimulants only mask the symptoms of fatigue. They do not address the underlying deficits and impairments that continue to get worse. And, once their temporary effects wear off, the driver experiences an even greater decline in his or her abilities.
Long story short, driving a car while fatigued poses serious dangers.
Houston: A Hotbed of Drowsy Driving
Unfortunately, if you live in Houston, you face higher-than-average risks from drowsy drivers. The insurance gurus at Value Penguin analyzed data on fatal car accidents from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and found that—by far—Texas has the drowsiest drivers in the nation. Over nine years, 22%, which constitutes more than one-fifth, of all drowsy driving-related fatal car accidents in the country happened in the Lone Star State, even though only around 9% of the total U.S. population calls Texas home. According to Value Penguin, Texas experiences a rate of drowsy driving accidents ten times higher than the average in all other states.
Unfortunately, Houston fits that mold. Over the same period, the greater Houston area encompassing Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties saw 47 fatal crashes. We can, perhaps, count our blessings in that respect, since Houston’s share of the state’s fatal drowsy driving accidents (between 3-4%) was lower than Houston’s share of the statewide population (around 8%). That provides little comfort, however, to the families who lost loved ones in those crashes.
Plus, counting fatal accidents only tells part of the story. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) keeps its own database of crash reports, called the Crash Records Information System (CRIS), which catalogs data from police accident reports across the state. We queried CRIS for data on accidents in which police identified drowsy driving as a contributing factor or possible contributing factor over nine years, similar to what Value Penguin surveyed.
Here’s what we found:
- Statewide, police reported 48,076 crashes that listed drowsy driving as a known contributing factor, and 19,606 crashes that listed it as a possible contributing factor. 1,265 of those crashes resulted in fatalities, and 3,926 involved serious injuries. Many more involved lesser or unknown injuries.
- Within the Houston city limits, police reported 867 crashes known to involve drowsy driving and an additional 1,511 crashes in which police suspected drowsy driving. 9 of those accidents resulted in fatalities, and 59 involved serious injuries. Again, many more involved lesser or unknown injuries.
The numbers don’t lie. Houston and the state at large have a drowsy driving problem.
Why Fewer Fatigued Driving Deaths in Houston?
Now, you might have noticed that the number of fatal accidents reported in Houston over nine years fell significantly below the number in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties. We saw that, too. We can think of several possible explanations for that discrepancy. First, the data comes from different sources, so it just doesn’t quite match up, but that’s not a particularly satisfying answer.
Another reason involves the fact that fatal drowsy driving accidents happen less often within the Houston city limits, and instead impact drivers disproportionately on the city’s outskirts in the other towns within the greater Houston area. That explanation sounds more likely to us. CRIS data shows that a large portion of drowsy driving accidents in Houston happen between midnight and 9 a.m., when a large portion of Houston’s daytime population is getting home late or heading into town for work.
Another explanation for the difference in the data is that fatal drowsy driving accidents happen less often in Houston because in-town streets and the major highways, like I-610, I-45, and I-69, experience heavy congestion, which means traffic moves at relatively slower speeds, reducing the odds of an accident causing fatal injuries. In other words, plenty of drowsy driving accidents happen within the Houston city limits, those accidents just cause fewer deaths.
Regardless of the explanation, the bottom line remains unchanged. Drivers take to the roads in Houston without enough sleep, with predictably terrible consequences.
How a Houston Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You
As lawyers for victims of drowsy driving accidents in Houston, we spend most of our time counseling clients after tragedy has struck. That’s one reason why we’ve written this blog—although we always stand ready to fight for the rights of injured accident victims and grieving families, we’d prefer that they never need our services to begin with. Educating the public about drowsy driving dangers constitutes one way that we can try to make Houston roads safer for everyone.
Still, as long as cars and tired individuals fill Houston roads, car accidents caused by drowsy driving will result. In the aftermath of a crash caused by a fatigued car driver, injured victims and the families of those tragically killed need steady, experienced guidance from a legal professional who can protect their rights and secure them the compensation they need to pay for their injuries and losses.
Skilled Houston car accident lawyers know that, in light of the data we’ve discussed above, driver fatigue could contribute to the cause of just about any crash. After all, if 4-in-10 Houston adults get less sleep than they need, you’d expect roughly the same proportion of accidents to have driver fatigue as a potential contributing cause. For that reason, lawyers for Houston car crash victims know to collect and analyze the evidence as soon as possible to figure out what possible role sleep deprivation may have played. Oftentimes, car driver fatigue will lie at the root of the cause of a crash, even if the police failed to note it in an accident report.
Why do experienced car accident lawyers focus on fatigue as a possible cause of a crash? Because under Texas law, anyone whose careless or reckless conduct causes an accident will generally owe damages to those they harm. A car driver who knows he’s fatigued to the point of impairment, but gets or stays behind the wheel anyway, should face legal and financial accountability if that fatigue causes a crash to no less of a degree than if that driver took the road after downing a six-pack of Shiner.
A car accident lawyer’s quick action can secure evidence, like data from onboard car computers, cell phones, and other sources, that might shed light on the possibility that a driver’s fatigue contributed to a crash. Then, a lawyer can use that evidence to prepare and pursue legal action seeking damages on behalf of the injured accident victims.
In a typical case, that legal action may secure payment for:
- Medical expenses involved in treating crash injuries and related health complications.
- Other expenses incurred because of the accident.
- Lost wages and income resulting from a crash victim missing work or becoming disabled.
- The victim’s pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life and relationships.
In cases of extremely reckless drowsy driving, a lawyer may even have the evidence needed to convince a Houston court to award punitive damages to the victims, as a way of punishing the drowsy driver’s conduct and setting an example for others. It’s high time we take drowsy driving just as seriously as we take drunk driving, since it’s just as dangerous and far more widespread.
What to Do if You Suspect Drowsy Driving Caused a Crash
It’s not always easy to know if a car driver’s fatigue caused a crash that injured you or your loved one. In most cases, a crash tends to jolt even the most exhausted driver awake, masking the fatigue that led to a crash moments beforehand. Instead, it may take a careful review of the evidence by a team of experienced legal professionals to identify the telltale signs that an accident stemmed from driver drowsiness.
That’s why, if you get into an accident in Houston, it’s important to seek legal help as soon as possible. You should first prioritize seeing a doctor to evaluate and document your injuries. After that, you should contact an experienced Houston car accident lawyer. The sooner an attorney can get started collecting evidence, the better your chances of uncovering a driver’s fatigue as the root cause of the crash that inflicted pain, expense, and loss on you and your family.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.