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Drowsy driving: it can be deadly

It's a natural, routine part of life: people get tired. Their eyelids flutter and sleep beckons. An end to a busy day nears.

This natural, normal event can be an extremely dangerous one if it happens while a person is driving, however. Drowsy drivers cause car and truck accidents every day from Massachusetts to Monterey, California -- and everywhere in between.

The widow of a police officer killed when a truck driver suspected of drowsy driving slammed into the police cruiser says she can still hear her three sons -- ages 16, 13 and 8 -- calling out for their father when they were told of his death.

"The pain we experienced is beyond description and continues to be," she said.

Experts say there is no easy fix to the drowsy driving problem. There is no reliable way of determining if a person was drowsy when a crash occurred.

In cases of suspected drunk driving, officers can test the blood alcohol content. In cases of suspected drowsy driving, there are no similar tests.

The most dangerous drowsy drivers are behind the wheels of big rigs. That's why there are laws prohibiting truck drivers from driving more than 11 hours in a day and mandating a rest period of at least 10 hours between those shifts.

Unfortunately, not all truck drivers -- or drivers of tour buses -- obey those laws.

In the case of the policeman, a prosecutor ultimately decided to drop negligent homicide charges because of the anticipated difficulty in convincing a jury that drowsy driving can affect reflexes and judgement as much as drunk driving.

The trucker eventually agreed to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge. He paid a $500 fine.

In these kinds of cases, the criminal justice system is unable to deliver justice. However, families can pursue another level of justice with civil litigation that punishes the person responsible for the needless harm to their loved one.

Source: Fox, "Is drowsy driving worse than drunk driving?", May 13, 2013

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