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Sleepiness attributable to more accidents than reported

The kickoff to the summer driving season is coming this weekend. By Friday, millions of Americans will travel to a holiday destination. This year’s holiday is poised to be one of the busiest travel weekends in recent history as the American Automobile Association predicts than 30 million people will take to highways this coming weekend, and the highest gas prices in four years is not likely to change this.

With so many people on the road, drivers tend to know about the hazards they should avoid. Public service announcements will remind them not to drink and drive, wear their seatbelts and stay off their cell phones while driving. Despite all of these warnings, perhaps the most important notice is being ignored: don’t drive while drowsy.

Indeed, you probably won’t see a public service announcing warning of the dangers of driving while sleepy, but new statistics show that sleepy drivers cause about 1 in 10 accidents in the U.S. In fact, federal officials found that drowsy driving causes eight times as many crashes than initially estimated.

Researchers examined footage of drivers in more than 700 accidents. In the three minutes before a crash, a driver showed signs of drowsiness in 10.8 percent of crashes that caused serious property damage. This was a stark departure from accident rates reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which estimated that drowsiness was a factor in only 1.4 percent of all police reported crashes.

While the effect of statistics can be sharply debated, the AAA report exemplifies the need for drivers to be vigilant while on the road. New York state law imposes a duty upon all drivers to use reasonable care while behind the wheel. This means that drivers must act as a reasonable person would, and making sure that having adequate rest before getting behind the wheel for a long drive is part of this responsibility.

If sleep deprivation is determined to be the cause of a crash, the offending (or sleepy) driver could be held liable for the injuries and property damage stemming from the accident. In the meantime, we wish our readers a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.

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