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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Driving While Drowsy Risks Criminal Charges For Accidents

The public grows more aware of the dangers of driving while drowsy.  As we approach the summer driving season (which will be dampened somewhat by $4.00-to-$5.00-per-gallon gasoline), it is useful to remember that drowsiness can be a deadly threat to all drivers. 

(In a previous column, I commented on a landmark medical study tracking cognitive impairment -- this means impaired judgment, something which plagues many midnight-oil-burning white-collar workers.  Sleep deprivation can have significant adverse effects on performance...in all sorts of contexts...and can be a leading cause of some legendary misstatements and other failures to communicate.)

One of this column's readers -- Fred from North Carolina, take a bow -- has pointed out that professional drivers such as long-haul truckers confront this problem on all levels.  First, he mentions, truckers have to deal with the amateur "Sunday drivers" who clog roads and often have no clue as to how to drive on an interstate highway (such as the drivers-from-hell who merge straight from an on-ramp to the fast lane while maintaining a speed at least 20-to-30 miles-per-hour less than the prevailing traffic).  Secondly, these drivers often are sleep-impaired and require additional attention from truckers, whose ability to stop is greatly compromised by the tremendous weight of their load.  (This is simple physics; the momentum of a moving large load requires a much longer lead time to stop or even slow down.)  Finally, the grind of a trucker's workday can push the healthiest of truckers to a point where fatigue becomes dangerous if not deadly.

These are lessons from professional drivers which we amateurs would do well to heed.

In the meantime, consider the growing trend to criminalize all sorts of actions.  An accident, including a potentially tragic automobile accident, can yield criminal liability as state legislators seek new ways to grab headlines and exploit popular outrage (of the moment) by thinking of new things that can be called "crimes" -- and which justify in the legislators' eyes punishment up to and including incarceration.

The lesson:  Use the proper due care.  But even if you do, an unfortunate accident can put you and your freedom at the mercy -- and subject to the malice -- of others.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer, political strategist and independent energy consultant.  Mr. Dixon can be reached at 917-696-2442 and by e-mail at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.
 













































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