Driver Fatigue and Personal Injury

Since February 2011, charter bus safety has been in the national spotlight. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has reported about 20 deaths related to bus crashes annually, 2011 has seen that number matched and exceeded in just the first few months of the year. Just this past May, Virginians were horrified by the fatal Interstate 95 crash of a Sky Express charter bus which took the lives of four bus occupants. On July 6, 2011, a Virginia grand jury considered the felony charges filed against bus driver Kin Yiu Cheung, who admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel.

Fatigue, as it plays a role in motor vehicle accidents, is easier to define than to outline its various causes. Fatigue is exhaustion that stems from disruptive sleep or lack of adequate sleep, stress, physical or mental illness, overwork or medications. Fatigue can reduce alertness, affect mood, and impair judgment.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsy driving is linked to 1,500 deaths and more than 71,000 injuries each year. This risky driver behavior contributes to approximately 100,000 reported crashes each year and these statistics may only represent conservative estimates, as many fatigue- or drowsiness-related issues go undetected. Common sense tips for reducing the risk of fatigued driving can save lives. As posted on the High Performance Resource Center, commercial carrier drivers should get six to eight hours of sleep before operating motor vehicles. This sleep standard recommendation is preferable when activities require sustained alertness.

The FMCSA also recommends that vehicle operators get adequate sleep before driving in order to prevent commercial motor vehicle crashes. The agency advocates maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding medications that may cause drowsiness, not relying on alertness tricks, and recognizing the danger signs of drowsiness are key to reducing driver fatigue.

The legal fate of Kin Yiu Cheung may be decided in September, 2011; however, the tragedy of the Sun Express Bus accident only supports the need for more stringent regulations regarding commercial bus companies and their drivers. As federal regulators continue to focus on the issue and develop meaningful initiatives, our nation’s drivers will have to do their part in ensuring that our roadways are free of drowsy drivers.