It’s More Than Driving Distracted: It’s Fatigue

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Fatigued driver in Pinellas Park FLIn the last post, I wrote about the Tracy Morgan car accident case that has had much of the country paying close attention to the rules of the road and the practice of driving distracted. The driver of the tractor-trailer truck (which hit the limo bus the comedian was riding in) faced the judge yesterday.

It was reported by The New York Times that Kevin Roper, a 35-year-old driver from Jonesboro, GA, pled guilty to one count of vehicular manslaughter and multiple counts of assault with a vehicle. He was driving for Wal-Mart when the crash occurred and it was initially thought that the cause of the accident was a distraction – Roper failed to see the slowing traffic ahead.

Now, however, there is evidence that the driver had not slept in as many as 24 hours at the time of the accident. This was not a repeat offense. Roper had a clean driving record, according to the courts, but he was forced to pay $50,000 bail in order to stay out of jail. This situation is not likely to be one that he easily forgets. That is small comfort, however, to the family of James McNair, the 62 year old comedian who lost his life in the crash. It is likely that personal injury attorneys will be called into action.

Though this accident happened far from our St. Petersburg homes, it should serve as an important lesson to millions of drivers throughout the country – fatigue behind the wheel can be fatal. It is unclear whether Roper was dozing while driving or if his exhaustion was simply playing against his ability to properly focus. Either way, the results of his distraction were devastating. reported that more than 100,000 accidents annually are a result of fatigue. These crashes result in more than 1,500 deaths and billions of dollars in damages every year. Who is at the greatest risk of finding themselves tired behind the wheel? Tractor-trailer drivers. Why? Because they frequently work long shifts at odd hours. Shift workers will generally have to fight their bodies’ internal clock in order to get rest between assignments. This can leave them feeling logy and wiped out, even before they have started a long, monotonous drive.

However, truck drivers are not the only people on the Saint Petersburg roads that are likely to nod off. It has been found that men are more likely to feel fatigued than women and those between the ages of 18-29 are at the greatest risk. However, kids in the home also wreak havoc on sleep schedules, making parents largely susceptible as well.

Fighting fatigue is not a battle easily won. A driver is very wise to get off the road when exhaustion sets in. Exercise, small snacks, and, of course, caffeine fixes have been shown to provide short-term, temporary relief. However, when a person is suffering regularly from tiredness, it is a sign that more productive sleep, or even a trip to a physician, is necessary. There are some illnesses and medications that can lead to fatigue. Those who struggle with their work commute should consider public transportation or carpooling options until adequate rest can be achieved.