Fatigued driving is a problem in Phoenix and across the country. Nationally, there are nearly 100,000 crashes each year where fatigued driving is a factor. This takes between 700 to 800 lives each year. In Arizona, there are an average of roughly 1,000 fatigued driving accidents each year, but in all likelihood, not all fatigue-related crashes get reported. These accidents tend to be serious, given the absolute lack of control that the other driver had over their car and the fact that you were not expecting the second car to act that unpredictably.
Here are some of the reasons why fatigued driving is a particular problem in Phoenix.
Long Isolated Desert Roads
The area outside Phoenix has long stretches of road that do help drivers stay awake. It is often difficult to focus in the desert when there are few other cars in the area. If a driver is already tired, poorly lit roads with long straightaway stretches will make the problem even worse. There are few stimuli in the desert to help keep a driver awake. While drivers should pull off the road to rest, there are not many opportunities to do so on a desert road.
In general, darker areas will mean that it is easier for an already tired driver to fall asleep. Their reflexes may dull when there is less on the road to get their attention. The further one gets outside of Phoenix, the more the road is conducive to driver fatigue. This is especially true as one travels towards the more sparsely populated areas between Phoenix and Tucson.
The Hot Phoenix Weather
In addition, the hot weather in Phoenix can wear drivers down, even when they have gotten enough sleep. The problem can be even worse when drivers do not have enough rest, and it can make fatigued driving risks worse.
In fact, one study showed that the rate of car accidents goes up by three percent on extremely hot days, and we have plenty of those in Phoenix. The risk of a driver’s performance error that can cause an accident increases by seven percent on days that are scorchers. For every degree Celsius that the temperature increases, the risk of a crash caused by driver mistake increased by 1.1 percent. Bad weather causing car accidents is not just limited to rain and snow.
Hot days can take a lot out of a driver. They find it harder to focus when their body is tired. Fatigue is more likely to get to a driver when they are hot and thirsty. They can drift out of their lanes due to heat-induced fatigue and fail to react in enough time to avoid an accident.
Longer Drives Because of the Expansive Environs of Phoenix
The Phoenix area is one of the more spread out metropolitan areas in the entire country. In the city itself, there are 4,850 miles of roadway, and this doesn’t even account for the massive surrounding areas. It can take well over an hour to travel from one end of the city to the other. Driving longer distances will lead to more motorist fatigue. When car journeys take an hour instead of ten minutes, drivers are more likely to get tired.
Phoenix motorists will commute an average of 23 miles each day for work. When they live far outside the city, they may drive long distances to and from the area for sporting and cultural events. This means that they have more opportunities to drive more later at night. The spread-out nature of the city means that people will be on the more at all hours of the night.
Rideshare companies do big business in Phoenix. While the rideshare companies do not release their number of annual riders in the Valley area, they do brag about the economic impact that they have in Phoenix. In a recent year, Lyft claimed that it had $59 million worth of economic impact on the Phoenix area. Uber said that on New Year’s Eve one year (before rideshare numbers even took off), there were 625 people in Uber cars at the stroke of midnight.
The large majority of Uber and Lyft rides do not happen during the day. Instead, people use these companies to get around at night, after they have been drinking or coming from a sporting event. This means that many rideshare drivers work the night shift. These can be people who worked a full day and are now trying to earn a second income at night. They are often tired at night on the road, not having gotten sleep beforehand during the day. This means that drivers are “deadheading” at night, driving around looking for rides when they are fatigued.
Difficult Mass Transit
The mass transit network in Phoenix is newer and less extensive than it is in other large cities. Unlike New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, people do not get onto a Valley Light Rail train or bus at night to get where they are going. If they are not calling an Uber, they are getting in their own car. People who want to stay on the road have fewer options, and Phoenix does not have a mass transit culture like other large cities. The light rail system does not even run past 11 p.m., forcing drivers onto the road at the time when they may be the most tired.
Heavy Truck Traffic
Even though there are federal rules that forbid drivers from driving too many hours, it does little to prevent fatigued truck driving. To cover the most ground possible, drivers will travel late at night, when there is the least traffic on the road. This is when they will be the most tired, as there are no assurances that they took advantage of off time to sleep.
Phoenix has its share of truck traffic due to its location as a hub in the Southwest. Further, many drivers are coming through the city on their way to the rest of the country from the ports in Southern California. The higher truck traffic means that there are more drivers on Phoenix highways late at night, increasing the chance that a fatigued truck driver can cause an accident.
Why Fatigued Driving Is So Dangerous
Fatigued driving is every bit as dangerous as drunk driving. Many police officers may pull over a fatigued driver for suspicion of drunk driving because they may be driving a similar way. They have difficulty staying in their lane, and they may be drifting all over the roadway.
After officers make the traffic stop and perhaps administer a Breathalyzer test, they realize that the driver is not drunk but is tired. Even still, an officer can ticket a fatigued driver for reckless driving. However, this only works when an officer sees the conduct and stops the driver. Many tired motorists cause accidents before a police officer can spot them.
The statistics on the actual effects of fatigued driving are alarming. The longer drivers go without sleep, the worse they perform behind the wheel. At 20 hours without sleep, it is the same ad driving with a .08 blood alcohol content. This is the legal limit for drunk driving in Arizona. When they hit 24 hours without sleeping, it increases to the equivalent of a .10 BAC. This is the same thing as being legally drunk.
Mistakes That Fatigued Drivers Make
Fatigued drivers are likely to:
- Nod off for brief periods (microsleep)
- Forget to do something simple, such as signal when turning
- Drive the wrong way down a one-way street because they cannot see a sign
- Be less alert behind the wheel
- Speed to make it home in time before falling asleep
- Drive aggressively because they cannot control their emotions
- Make poor decisions because being tired affects their judgment
All of these increase the accident risk and endangers drivers around them. As much as we recommend that drivers properly rest before they get behind the wheel, there will always be people who think that they can make it, and falling asleep will not happen to them. These are the people who end up becoming a statistic. The problem is that well-rested drivers around them also become a statistic, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time around the wrong driver.
Brief Microsleep Can Prove Fatal
Even nodding off behind the wheel for a brief few seconds is incredibly dangerous. When you are traveling on the highway, all it takes is a few seconds for your car to travel the length of a football field. By the time that you come back to full consciousness, you may miss the car stopped in front of you or a curve in the road. Even a brief period of nodding off is enough to cause a severe accident, especially when you are going at a high speed. All it takes is one wrong move or one missed stimuli to cause a major accident.
Of course, fatigued drivers are usually also negligent drivers. Anytime that they make a mistake, they are likely to do something that would be unreasonable under the circumstances. It does not matter whether anyone discovers after the fact that they did not have enough sleep. The mere fact that they did something like drift out of a lane or rear-end another driver is enough for a negligence verdict. The ultimate proof of their fatigue is in their actions. If they veer off into your lane and run you off the road, the cause of the accident does not necessarily matter. They will be found negligent.
Fatigued Driving Crashes with Trucks
If a truck driver caused the accident because of fatigue, the stakes of your case may increase. Federal rules prevent them from driving too much at one time, and they impose mandatory rest periods. Fatigued truck drivers may have violated the rules. Drivers must keep mandatory logs of their driving time, but companies or drivers can falsify them.
One of the first things that a truck accident attorney will ask for is the driving logs and the truck’s black box. If the driver has deliberately violated a federal rule, and there is a pattern of it, you may even have a case for punitive damages, although these are very rare.
In the meantime, the trucking company would be responsible for their driver’s actions. Their insurance policy would need to cover the damages. If their insurance policy was not large enough to cover your injuries, you may go after the trucking company’s assets. This is something that the trucking company will want to avoid at all costs because it can put them out of business.
Why You Need a Lawyer in a Phoenix Fatigued Driving Case
Fatigued driving crashes tend to be more severe than the average crash because the driver has likely lost control of their vehicle or hit another car at a high speed. This usually means that you are dealing with higher numbers in a claim or lawsuit because the injuries are more serious. Accordingly, you need a lawyer to help make sure that you recover what you legally deserve, as opposed to being shortchanged by the insurance company.
If you were in an accident with a fatigued driver, your issues will more likely revolve around obtaining the right amount of damages as opposed to proving liability because the other driver’s negligence will be more clear-cut. Being offered a settlement does not necessarily equal a win for you because it can be for pennies on the dollar.
Getting enough money may take some work through negotiations with the insurance company. They likely recognize that they have a large check to write, especially when the accident was serious. This is why you need a lawyer to protect your legal rights. This is what experienced Phoenix car accident attorneys do every day.