1.2 General Driver Drowsiness Laws
Use: † Included under reckless driving; use of explicit drowsiness laws is low. High
Included under reckless driving; use of explicit drowsiness laws is low. Time: Short
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: Laws that specifically target drowsy drivers are not widely used, and this countermeasure has not been systematically examined. There are insufficient evaluation data available to conclude that the countermeasure is effective.
Existing State laws allow people to be cited and prosecuted if they cause crashes due to drowsy driving; however, the extent to which States pursue these cases is currently unknown. Two States have laws that specifically target the issue of drowsy drivers. In 2003 New Jersey enacted “Maggie’s Law,” under which a driver can be prosecuted for vehicular homicide if the driver has not slept in 24 hours and causes a crash in which someone is killed. Arkansas has a similar law – a driver can be charged with negligent homicide if the driver is involved in a fatal crash and has not slept in 24 hours. Three drivers were convicted between the time when the law was passed in 2013 and 2016 (GHSA, 2016).
No studies have evaluated whether general reckless driving laws or specific drowsy driving laws have any effect on curbing drowsy driving. Based on extensive experience in other traffic safety areas, it is likely that these laws will have little or no effect unless they are vigorously publicized and enforced. See the Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving chapter, Sections 2.1 on alcohol-impaired driving, the Seat Belts and Child Restraints chapter, Sections 2.1, 3.1, and 3.2 on seat belt use laws, and the Speeding and Speed Management chapter, Sections 2.2 and 4.1 on aggressive driving and speeding laws. Enforcement of drowsy driving laws is likely to be especially difficult because drowsiness is difficult to observe, measure, and document (see overview of issues in GHSA, 2016). One survey of 293 Australian drivers found that young drivers with higher levels of extraversion or with a more tolerant view of driving while drowsy were less likely to view drowsy driving charges as legitimate, even in cases of crashes (Watling, 2018). Nevertheless, these laws may increase the impact of communications and outreach efforts to reduce drowsy driving discussed in the Distracted Driving chapter, Sections 2.1 (see also Stutts et al., 2005, Strategy C2).
Use: As of July 2018, New Jersey and Arkansas were the only States with laws explicitly addressing drowsy driving (NCSL, 2018). Two States (Alabama and California) designate a day for drowsy driving awareness, two States designate a week of awareness activities (Florida and Texas), and Utah has commissioned studies to determine which highways are high-risk for observed instances of driver drowsiness. See NCSL (2018) for more information on these laws and other drowsy driving related bills. The NSF’s Drowsy Driving Advocacy Kit (www.sleepfoundation.org/national-sleep-foundation-drowsy-driving-advocacy-kit) is intended to help local and State drowsy driving advocates develop legislative inputs (GHSA, 2016).
Effectiveness: The effect of any laws on reducing drowsy driving is unknown.
Costs: Costs are required for publicity and enforcement. Enforcement costs likely will be minimal, as most enforcement likely will be included under regular traffic patrols or combined with enforcement directed primarily at other offenses such as alcohol-impaired or aggressive driving. However, special patrols to enforce drowsy driving laws will entail greater costs including training (GHSA, 2016) and especially if overtime is required for LEOs.
Time to implement: The implementation time is primarily determined by the time required to pass new drowsy driving laws. Implementation can begin as soon as the laws are publicized, and law enforcement patrol officers are trained.