Distracted and Fatigued Driving: Some Stats  

tired man sitting in car yawning and holding a cup of coffee
Posted: August 21, 2023

Most New Yorkers spend some time in the car each day. We live in an increasingly mobile society and, for better or worse, are car dependent – particularly in suburban and rural areas where public transportation is not always readily available.  

Time in the car, whether commuting to and from work or driving to the grocery store, is often seen as a relatively mundane activity—a time to decompress from the day and reflect on things—but it just might be the most dangerous thing we do each day.  

Dangers of drunk driving receive a lot of attention, as it should, because it needlessly claims thousands of lives each year.  

Some would be surprised, however, to find out that the number one cause of car accidents on New York roads does not depend on the consumption of an intoxicating drink or substance, but instead plain old inattention or distraction. 

And, on many occasions, driver fatigue is the culprit.  

Distracted Driving  

Whether caused by a screaming toddler in the backseat or the melodic chime of a text message, distraction can mean the difference between safe passage and life-changing injury.  

While it may not appear to garner the same blameworthiness as drunk driving, the effects are virtually the same: putting lives at risk on public highways. 

According to the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (the Committee), distracted driving is the number one contributing factor to motor vehicle crashes in New York.  

Adopting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) definition of “driver inattention”–which includes engagement in secondary tasks, drowsiness, driving-related inattention, and non-specific eye glances away from the forward roadway–statistics put forward by the Committee are remarkable:  

  • The risk of a car crash can double when the driver looks away from the road for just a second or two; 
  • Drowsiness can increase the risk of a crash or near crash by a factor of four; 
  • Any engagement with “secondary tasks” while driving can increase the risk; and 
  • The risk factor can increase by a multiple of two or three should the driver engage in activity such as listening or dialing a hand-held device, inserting or retrieving a compact disc, and applying makeup or eating.  

According to the NHTSA, nationwide over 3,500 people lost their lives due to distracted driving in 2021.  

There are three main types of distraction: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions involve activities that take the driver’s eyes from the road. A manual distraction includes anything that requires the driver’s hands to be taken off the steering wheel. Cognitive distractions, by nature, involve interference with the cognitive process of driving, which requires the fast and accurate processing of various stimuli.  

These types of distraction are, of course, not mutually exclusive; certain activities can implicate all three.  

Fatigued Driving  

Fatigued driving is an example of a form of distracted driving that can implicate all three kinds of distraction.  

Driver fatigue accident statistics published by the Committee demonstrate that in 2017 “drowsy driving” or “driver fell asleep” factored in over 2,300 crashes in the state that resulted in a fatality or personal injury. The Committee cited national driver fatigue statistics from the National Sleep Foundation finding that young drivers are the most likely (71% of cases) to drive while drowsy.   

Someone injured in a New York car crash who seeks compensation for pain-and-suffering must establish that another person is liable.  

This requires evidence of negligence, which can take the form of a statutory violation of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (also known as negligence per se) or, more generally, evidence that the other person failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances.  

Negligence can include evidence of distraction or inattention when it is a legal, or proximate, cause of the crash and resulting injuries.  

For example, assume that the driver violated Vehicle and Traffic Law 1225-d, “Use of portable electronic devices,” by texting and driving, causing the driver to overlook and strike a pedestrian as they tried to cross an intersection. Or assume that the driver looked backward toward the rear seat while the car was in motion, seeking to lecture a noisy child, culminating in a rear-end impact with the car ahead. 

The stakes can sometimes be higher when large commercial vehicles are involved. Truck driver fatigue statistics from the 1990s suggest that up to 40-percent of all heavy truck crashes stem, at least in part, from driver fatigue.  

If fatigue and related distraction caused the crash, resulting in serious injuries, liability will generally follow. The distracted driver, or the insurance company required to indemnify that driver, will need to pay for damages caused.  

The attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. have extensive experience helping injured New Yorkers after serious car wrecks. To receive compensation for pain-and-suffering, it is not enough just to show injury. Liability must also be established. Our attorneys have experience investigating car accidents and obtaining evidence of negligence, including fatigued or distracted driving, to help ensure that our clients receive maximum compensation under the circumstances. 

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