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Drowsy Driving and Drinking

Many young drivers find their daily schedule packed with activities. From work to school to social events, many people do not get as much sleep as they should. Not getting enough sleep can impair your physical and mental abilities. This can be dangerous when driving while drowsy. Combining alcohol with sleep deprivation can be even more dangerous. 

Drowsy driving can cause similar impairment to drinking and driving. A driver who is not over the legal limit may be arrested for impaired driving because they were tired rather than inebriated. The police may not believe your excuse about tired driving but you should not face criminal DUI charges just because you didn't get enough sleep. 

An experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer understands how to show a jury that the driver was arrested because of something other than alcohol or drugs. Drowsy driving may be dangerous but it should not be the cause of a criminal DUI charge. Contact an experienced California DUI defense lawyer in Alameda or Contra Costa County who can explain your rights and legal defense options after a drunk driving arrest. 

Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving can be dangerous, just like driving under the influence of alcohol. However, driving while tired is not the same as drunk driving. It is important to understand the dangers of driving while tired to stay safe on the road. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “between 2005 and 2009 drowsy driving was responsible for an annual average of 83,000 crashes.” However, these numbers may be underestimating the actual number of crashes. Drowsy driving may cause up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year. 

Despite the dangers of driving while fatigued, drowsy driving is very common among drivers of all ages. According to one survey, approximately 1 out of 25 adults reported falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Sleepy driving can affect driving in similar ways to impaired driving, including: 

  • Making drivers less attentive
  • Slowing reaction time
  • Affecting a driver's ability to make quick decisions

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that about 10% of all crashes involved drowsiness. Over 1/3rd of drivers get less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep each night. According to AAA, “missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

Drowsy Driving and Reckless Driving

Drowsy driving is not a specific criminal offense in California. However, if a drowsy driver is operating a vehicle in an unsafe manner, the driver could be cited for reckless driving. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23103, “A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”

Under the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, the elements of a reckless driving charge include proving:  

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle; AND
  2. The defendant intentionally drove with wanton disregard for safety of persons or property.  

The penalties for a conviction for reckless driving can include up to 90 days in jail and a fine. 

A conviction also counts as 2 points on your driving record, which can result in higher insurance rates and a license suspension. Reckless driving that causes bodily injury can be much more serious, resulting in up to 6 months in jail. 

For a drowsy driving incident, to show reckless driving, the prosecutor may need to show that the driver knew they were tired or falling asleep at the wheel and continued to drive despite knowing they presented a danger to others on the road. Drowsy driving incidents that are charged as reckless driving may be rare because it may be difficult to show that a tired driver intentionally drove with a disregard for safety. 

Alcohol Combined With Lack of Sleep and Driving

Drinking too much can impair your ability to drive and so can a lack of sleep. Combining a little bit of alcohol with a little bit of drowsiness can increase the effects of the alcohol. This means that a drowsy driver who has had a couple of drinks might be impaired even if they are not over the BAC limit. A driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is not the only way to get a DUI. Drivers can still face drunk driving charges even if they are not over the legal limit

Prescription Medication and Drowsiness When Driving

There are several types of prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs that have drowsiness as a side effect. Many people disregard the “side effects” of medication as something that is rare or only affects certain people. However, medication that can cause drowsiness can impact your ability to drive. 

A common warning for medication warns, “do not operate heavy machinery.” This sounds like an industrial warning but heavy machinery can include a vehicle. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, “your car is ‘heavy machinery'. We hope this campaign makes the public think twice before they get in the car after using medications. A DUI doesn't just mean booze.”

A roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) found that during a weekday driving sample, 10% of drivers tested positive for the presence of a prescription or OTC drug. Even common cold and allergy medications can make drivers feel sleepy, impair judgment, slow reaction time, and reduce coordination. If you are not sure how certain medications might affect you, review the warning label for risks of driving and drowsiness. 

California DUI Defense in the East Bay

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of DUI defense experience and understands the consequences for drivers after an arrest for driving under the influence. Representing individuals in Contra Costa and Alameda County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local DUI defense laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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