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Driving While Under the Influence…of Fatigue

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Sleepy Man

We all know that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can impair judgment and put everyone’s lives at risk. But we do not often think of the intoxicating effect of that all-nighter or the common case of “burning the candle at both ends.” If you are running on empty (sleep, that is, not fuel), you are putting yourself and others at risk.

On June 7, a sleep-deprived Walmart truck driver crashed into a car that was carrying, among others, comedians Tracy Morgan and James “Uncle Jimmy Mack” McNair on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing McNair and seriously injuring Morgan. According to New Jersey prosecutors, Kevin Roper, 35, of Jonesboro, Ga., had been awake for a period in excess of 24 hours at the time of the crash. As the NY Times reported, investigations found that Roper swerved at the last minute to avoid a collision with slow-moving traffic up ahead that he had failed to perceive, causing the multi-vehicle crash that killed one and injured several others.

Roper has been charged with vehicular homicide. The law in New Jersey states that if the operator of a vehicle has been awake for over 24 hours at the time of an accident, he or she can be convicted of vehicular homicide.

The number of fatal accidents such as this one involving large commercial trucks has risen steadily over the past few years, and as a result, the trucking industry is being blamed for much of the danger of our roads. The crash involving Morgan and McNair has given rise to demand for stricter laws that regulate the safety of the trucking industry.

According to USA Today, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration currently limits the hours that commercial truckers are allowed to drive. The fact of the matter is, however, that our roads are unsafe due to a mix of societal impairments—alcohol, drugs, cell phones, fast food, music, lack of sleep, and overall inattentiveness—that divert our attention from driving.

While Louisiana does not mention this specific condition as a charge for vehicular homicide, it raises a serious issue to bear in mind. Driving on too little sleep is a serious offense—one that can result in lost lives and trouble with the law—and it should not be taken lightly. From the moment you slip behind the wheel, every choice you make and have made prior to that point has a consequence. Only you can be the judge of your ability to safely navigate the roads.

We at Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias, LLC would like to take this opportunity to remind you that driving is a task that requires the full concentration of one’s faculties. Alcohol and drugs are not the only factors that can impair one’s ability to concentrate on driving. Before you slip behind the wheel, please remember to check your tank—your sleep tank—for your safety and for the safety of all.


Photo Credit: William Brawley via Compfight cc

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About Gary Smith

Gary is a founding member of Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias L.L.C. Gary represents clients whose cases involve maritime and admiralty law and litigation. In addition to practicing law, Gary serves as a State Senator in the Louisiana Senate.Gary Smith's Google+ Profile

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