A new bill pending in the New York State assembly proposes to make drowsy driving a criminal offense. Currently, it is not a crime in New York to drive while tired and any non-commercial driver who is found to be too tired is exonerated from punishment larger than a ticket, even if the driver causes a crash and someone dies as a result.
Similar to the influence of alcohol or drugs, drowsy driving slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment, and increases aggressiveness. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drowsiness is the principal cause of up to 100,000 police-reported passenger vehicle crashes each year, killing at least 1,500 people and injuring 71,000.
Many associate drowsy driving with commercial truck drivers who spend long hours on the roads. However, AAA reports that 1 out of 3 non-commercial drivers have also admitted to falling asleep at the wheel while driving at least once in their life.
Under the new bill, a crash caused by a driver who was impaired due to fatigue would be classified as a misdemeanor and a crash causing death would constitute a felony. If convicted, the driver could lose their license and face jail time.
Local attorneys argue that while drowsy driving is a dangerous problem, criminal penalties would be nearly impossible for police to enforce. “I think it’s absolutely unenforceable. The only thing to prove anything like that is someone would have to admit it,” said Richard Healy, District Attorney for Wayne County. Unlike alcohol-related crashes, there is no objective test for sleepiness behind the wheel that investigators could administer to a driver at the scene of a crash. This makes police training to identify drowsiness as a crash factor a very difficult task.
Most states do not have drowsy driving laws in place yet. However, the New Jersey legislature tackled drowsy driving in 2003 by passing Maggie’s Law. The law, named after a 20-year-old college student who was killed by a drowsy driver, states that a sleep-deprived driver qualifies as a reckless driver and can be convicted of vehicular homicide resulting in jail time.
For more information and safety tips about drowsy driving, visit safeny.ny.gov. For help with the legal implications of drowsy driving, or for assistance with a ticket for reckless driving anywhere in New York State, contact The Rosenblum Law Firm for a free attorney consultation at 888-883-5529.