Unfortunately, drowsy driving laws are not as clear-cut as we would want.
Even though we universally condemn drowsy driving and understand it’s attributable for one-third of all road accidents, creating government legislature has proven difficult.
Drowsy driving is as bad as drunk driving…
…so why doesn’t the law reflect this?
Drowsiness affects not only drivers on the road, but those in high-performing industries, like mining, aviation, and the military, too. No one is exempt from drowsiness regardless of age, gender, or location.
It’s often stated individuals can’t predict when they’re tired, making it harder to attribute accidents to drowsiness, and, just like alcohol, drowsiness impairs our reaction time, awareness, and cognitive thinking. But without the social stigma attached to it, some people don’t understand the significant risks of drowsy driving.
Drowsy driving laws and rules
There are few drowsy driving laws around the world, as drowsiness is often not measured or tested on the road. It takes a deeper investigation by police to determine whether drowsiness may have been a cause of an accident; it’s often subjective, which makes it difficult.
Maggie’s Law – New Jersey, USA
Probably the most well known drowsy driving law was passed in the US state New Jersey. Maggie’s Law was passed in June 2003 and makes it illegal to knowingly drive a vehicle while impaired by lack of sleep. Drivers who kill someone in such a situation can be charged with ‘vehicular homicide’.
The law was created to honour Maggie McDonnell, who was killed at the age of 20 by a driver who admitted to being awake for 30 hours before getting behind the wheel, and had also been using drugs. The driver’s sole punishment was a suspended jail sentence and a $200 fine.
SB 874 – Arkansas, USA
This law was enacted in 2013, and finds any individual involved in a misdemeanour as a fatigued driver to be charged under the offence ‘negligent homicide’. Under this law, a fatigued driver is one who has been without sleep for 24 hours. You can read the Bill it its entirety here.
US trucking laws
The US law states professional truck drivers must take adequate breaks between schedules. The problem here is that while a driver may take their compulsory 34-hour break after a full work week, there is no guarantee they will use that downtime to get quality sleep and rest.
The only cure for built-up ‘sleep debt’ is sleep. So while these regulations are technically being followed, truckers mightn’t be adequately repaying their debts.
Death by Dangerous Driving – UK
This road traffic offence is split into three Levels of Seriousness where “driving while knowingly deprived of adequate sleep or rest” falls under Level 3, driving that creates a significant risk of danger – Level 2 offences create a “substantial risk”, while Level 1 contains the “most serious offences”.
But UK research suggests around 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep related and therefore the Level 3 placement of sleep deprivation or drowsiness may be inadequate.
Australian trucking laws
Australia reinvented their trucking laws to be similar across most of the country; previously, laws differed quite considerably from state to state.
The new laws replaced five different sets of legislation across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory.
The laws are split into three categories:
- Standard hours (the work and rest hours allowed for heavy-vehicle drivers)
- Basic Fatigue Management (as long as fatigue risk is properly managed, operators may implement flexible working hours for drivers)
- Advanced Fatigue Management (a risk management approach to flexible hours, in return for “the operator demonstrating a greater accountability for managing their drivers’ fatigue risks”)
Amendments took effect on 6th February 2016, including new penalty amounts for offences, alignment of vehicle standards, and acceptance of electronic work log diaries.
Real-time measurement is crucial
Dash cam footage is often used as evidence in a range of driving accidents or crashes… but it’s only after an incident occurs that we begin to examine footage.
Even other fatigue monitoring technology reacts after a driver has entered the dangerous state of drowsiness and has possibly already been involved in an accident. It’s Optalert’s real-time, predictive technology that objectively identifies an instance of drowsiness before an accident occurs.
Optalert is the world’s first and only company with technology actually determining when the risk of an instance of drowsiness is likely to occur, giving an operator a mid-range or high warning, and alerting them, and their supervisors, that they are entering the dangerous state of drowsiness and need to take action.