A man apparently fell asleep behind the wheel before causing a fatal head-on collision in Lincoln County, North Carolina (NC), on the morning of the day before Thanksgiving 2017. The deadly wreck on Highway 73 just east of McMillan Heights Road killed the driver of the car involved and sent three of the car’s passengers to hospitals.
The victims have been identified as members of a single family who live in the county. The deceased driver was the mother of two children in the car, and one of the siblings needed to be airlifted to Charlotte for lifesaving treatment. All had to be cut free from their wrecked car, which had been hit so hard that it went airborne.
News reports do not indicate whether the man who reportedly fell asleep while traveling through an unincorporated section of Lincoln County north of Iron Station will be charged with any criminal offenses. What is clear to my Carolina wrongful death law firm colleagues and myself, however, is that the fatal head-on illustrates the tragic consequences of fatigued driving.
Also called drowsy driving, nodding off or fully falling asleep while driving at highway speeds claims hundreds of lives and inflicts thousands of injuries each year. On its webpage devoted to sharing research on the causes, effects and prevention of fatigued driving, the National Transportation Safety Administration notes, “Drowsy driving kills. It claimed 846 lives in 2014.” The agency further highlights statistics that indicate that “drowsy driving crashes also frequently occur on rural roads and highways.”
One explanation for the latter finding is that many rural highways are two lanes like Highway 73. Even a brief lapse of concentration can quickly -- almost inevitably -- put the drowsy driver’s vehicle over the center line and into the path of oncoming traffic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, driving while at risk for falling asleep
- Makes drivers less able to pay attention to the road.
- Slows reaction time if you have to brake or steer suddenly.
- Affects a driver’s ability to make good decisions.
And that list does not even mention the inability of sleeping drivers to see and react to changes in traffic flow, red lights and stop signs, leaving one’s lane or curves in the road.
As the year-end holiday season begins, all drivers’ risks for getting behind the wheel after staying up too late, drinking too much, waking too early or simply not getting enough quality rest increase. Drivers who wish to protect themselves and others from fatigued driving wrecks should hand over the keys when they feel excessively tired or worn down.