Reports from the CHP regarding this tragic bus collision last week in San
Jose resulting in 2 deaths and serious injuries, suggest that the driver
may have been fatigued. It is well established that fatigue can be a risk
to the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Efforts to reduce the risks
posed by fatigue from inadequate sleep duration, quality and timing have
been the focus of initiatives at the National Transportation Safety Board,
Department Transportation, Department of Defense, and the National Institutes
There is extensive scientific evidence demonstrating that fatigue associated
with sleepiness occurs as a result of the physiological consequences of
inadequate sleep, prolonged wakefulness, and being awake at a circadian
time that the brain is programmed to sleep. These factors can co-occur
to produce and amplify fatigue and its effect on behavior. An evaluation
of the extent to which fatigue was likely to have contributed to this
or any accident therefore requires evaluation of information on the timing
of sleep and wakefulness.
In addition to identifying whether the antecedents of fatigue were present
relative to an accident, the behavior of someone involved in an accident
must be evaluated for the extent to which it is consistent with scientific
knowledge on the manner in which fatigue physiologically affects the ability
to perform certain tasks. There is extensive scientific evidence that
fatigue resulting from lost sleep can make it difficult to remain awake,
alert and attentive.
Research sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
has found that driving drowsy results in a 4-6 times higher near-crash/crash
risk relative to driving alert, and drowsy driving had a higher crash
risk than distracted driving.
Fatigue reduces the ability to sustain attention and focus on a task, to
think and react quickly, to appreciate what is happening, and take action
to avoid an error or accident before it is too late.
When sleep is inadequate it results in increasing slow eyelid closures
and involuntary, sudden and unpredictable lapses in performance. These
lapses can be frequent, prolonged and uncontrollable, depending on the
degree of sleep loss within and between days.
Research has shown that drivers experience sleepiness and struggle with
it, but they are not always able to accurately judge the severity of the
sleepiness relative to the risk it poses to their performance. The inability
to stop the occurrence of fatigue-related performance lapsing, or frank
sleep onsets while driving, is the reason that motor vehicle crashes associated
with sleepy driving are often (1) single vehicle, (2) roadway departure
at highway speed, and (3) lacking evidence of corrective action before
the vehicle impacts another object. These factors may explain why the
fatality rate for sleep-related crashes is near to that found for alcohol-related
There is considerable scientific work that equates the performance deficits
induced by varying degrees of sleep loss to the performance deficits induced
by varying blood alcohol concentrations. For example, 18 hours of wakefulness
in healthy adults produced psychomotor performance deficits equal to those
present when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .05%. Twenty-two 22
hours of wakefulness produced psychomotor performance deficits equal to 0.8% BAC.
It is too early to know the details regarding the sleep history for this
particular driver but surely the discovery in this future litigation will
delve deeply into these issues. Driving fatigued is just as bad as driving drunk.
If you or a loved one has been hurt by a fatigued driver, you may be eligible
for compensation. Contact the
Law Office of Scott Righthand, P.C. today to start exploring your legal options.We're ready to hear your story.