The number of drowsy driving accidents is difficult to quantify. Police attribute many likely drowsy driving accidents to other causes simply because there is no way to prove the driver fell asleep in a fatal accident. Research suggests that driving tired is a much larger problem than statistics reveal. In one study, one in 25 drivers admitted to having fallen asleep while driving in the 30 days prior. Despite drowsiness being a major known cause of traffic collisions, law enforcement in Miami barely address the issue.

The Drowsy Driving Problem

It is impossible to drive safely while fighting the urge to fall asleep. Drowsiness creates difficulty concentrating on the road, slows reaction time to changing road conditions, and affects decision-making abilities. Falling asleep behind the wheel renders the driver completely incapable of controlling the vehicle. A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration placed the number of drowsy driving–related accidents at 72,000 in one year – resulting in at least 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. The true number of these collisions could be much higher.

Driving tired has much the same effect as drinking and driving. A tired driver may not be able to think clearly, react quickly, or make good driving decisions. While most people are aware of the dangers of driving under the influence, the dangers of drowsy driving remain much less discussed. As a result, many people start trips when they really should be sleeping. Signs of fatigue include slow blinks, excessive yawning, losing track of time, missing exits, and not being able to keep your eyes open. Pull over and take a nap as soon as you notice these warning signs to prevent causing an accident.

Lack of Legal Intervention for Tired Driving

Drivers who cause accidents by falling asleep at the wheel have historically faced unreasonably light charges – or no charges at all. Since drowsy drivers show no signs of impairment after the fact, it can be difficult to trace these infractions and take legal action for negligence. Driving tired also isn’t a willful action, so the charge of “recklessness” doesn’t fit. Lax rules and lack of legal punishment for drowsy drivers has perpetuated this deadly problem – leaving hundreds of families broken throughout the country.

One recent example of the lack of legal intervention for drowsy driving is the Miami-Dade County ruling for the dump truck driver who fell asleep behind the wheel and caused an 11-car crash, killing one woman. The driver, Larry Ellis, lost his job with the county but didn’t face any criminal charges for the death. Driving tired occurs most often in commercial drivers and shift workers, especially those with long shifts. This may have been the case with Ellis. The investigation also suggests he may have been drowsy as a side effect of medication he was taking at the time. As of today, the county hasn’t filed any criminal charges against Ellis.

Increasing the criminal penalties for driving drowsy could spread awareness about this deadly problem and possibly encourage drivers to get some sleep instead of hitting the road. More severe punishment for this act of negligence could lead to companies strengthening hours of service rules and ensuring drivers get enough rest before beginning shifts. Until lawmakers crack down on drivers who carelessly drive tired, people like the victim of the Miami tragedy will continue to be casualties.