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Thousands of Fatalities Caused by Drowsy Drivers

Arkansas is one of just two states with laws against fatigued driving

Research shows that driving while fatigued is linked to thousands of fatalities every year. However, taking action to address those accidents is an ongoing issue.

In 2013, Arkansas became just the second state to pass a law cracking down on drowsy driving. Arkansas' law allows the state to charge a motorist involved in a fatal crash with "negligent homicide" if the driver had gone 24 hours without sleep prior to the collision, or had fallen asleep at the wheel after staying awake for 24 hours.

That length of time is significant because of the degree of impairment it imposes on drivers. According to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, going without sleep for a full 24 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 - the legal limit to be charged with drunk driving in Arkansas and nationwide.

Commercial truck drivers are subject to significantly stricter regulations, including mandatory rest breaks that both drivers and trucking companies are required to document. However, enforcing drowsy driving laws on private motorists is difficult at best because the burden of proof is on the police officer to show that the driver stayed awake for 24 hours.

New Jersey, which has had a law similar to Arkansas' on the books since 2003, has only prosecuted a handful of cases against drowsy drivers who caused fatalities - most notably in the 2014 crash that injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed fellow comedian James McNair.

Expanded laws proposed to address drowsy driving crashes

With only two states presently taking legal steps to crack down on drowsy drivers, some advocates favor expanding those laws. For instance, the National Sleep Foundation advocates changing the current standard of 24 hours of wakefulness to a new "two-hour standard;" that is, any driver who has slept two hours or less in the preceding 24 hours would be considered dangerously drowsy and unfit to drive.

Others point out that legislation is a tricky process at best. In addition to the enforcement issue, there are labor issues to consider; many people who drive while fatigued work multiple jobs or night shifts. Sleep disorders such as chronic insomnia also play a role, and it's unclear whether people with medical conditions should be held to the same standard as people who knowingly stay awake.

However, advocates for tougher laws against drowsy driving point out that a new law can elevate an issue in the public consciousness. States with bans on texting and driving, for instance, tend to see a decrease in traffic fatalities across the board, even though the number of actual tickets issued for texting and driving is quite low. If more states follow the lead set by Arkansas and New Jersey, motorists may similarly make safer choices about getting behind the wheel when they are too tired to drive.

Even though drowsy driving is only a crime under Arkansas law if it leads to a fatality, driving while tired can constitute a form of negligence in civil cases arising from non-fatal as well as fatal auto accidents. If you've been hurt by a fatigued or asleep-at-the-wheel driver, you'll need a dedicated attorney from our firm to investigate the accident and hold the negligent driver accountable.

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