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What causes driver fatigue and what are its signs?

Driving a vehicle is a big responsibility. Whether it's your personal vehicle or a commercial truck you're driving as a part of your job, it's vital to be alert and attentive at all times.

This is why fatigued driving is so dangerous. Fatigued drivers have symptoms akin to intoxication such as slower reaction times, inattentiveness and -- even worse -- there's a chance they could actually fall asleep behind the wheel.

What causes fatigued or drowsy driving?

There are various reasons why a driver might be sleepy or fatigued behind the wheel. Here are the most common causes:

A lack of sleep: With the way most people live their lives, there's barely enough time to get a good night's sleep. Other things could also interrupt one's sleep, like caring for a newborn baby, trying to sleep in a noisy environment or trying to sleep in the cab of a semitruck while doing a cross-country delivery.

Driving after bedtime: We all have natural sleep rhythms. When you try to stay awake after your usual bedtime, no matter what activity you're doing, you could find yourself nodding off to sleep, less attentive and groggy.

Sleep disorders: People who suffer from sleep-related medical conditions like sleep apnea find it difficult to stay awake and attentive while driving.

Don't try to wage a war against sleep

There are some battles that you're never going to win. It's important to recognize these kinds of battles, walk away, and maybe just take a nap. This is the case with sleep.

All humans require sleep, some more than others. If you don't honor your body's natural sleep requirements, you will pay the price with your health and your safety -- especially if you're trying to operate a vehicle while sleep deprived.

It's important to recognize immediately if you're sleep deprived while driving so that you can pull off to the side of the road and take the rest you require. Here are the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Yawning
  • Heavy eyelids and sore eyes
  • Slowed reactions
  • Daydreaming or a lack of concentration toward driving
  • Your driving speed is slowly increasing or decreasing
  • You feel impatient
  • Badly changing gears and other driving performance problems
  • Feeling cramped and stiff
  • Not feeling motivated
  • Nodding off behind the wheel

Anyone could get hurt by a fatigued driver

Fatigued drivers cause motor vehicle accidents all the time, but it's not always clear that the accident happened because the at-fault driver was sleepy or fatigued. A close examination of the facts surrounding the crash, however, could reveal the true extent of the driver's fatigued state of body and mind. Such evidence could be used to support a victim's claim for damages.

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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