If you listen to politicians and the media, you might think drunk drivers are the most serious menace on the roads today. However, a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals another under-recognized danger: drowsy drivers. One in six fatal crashes involves a driver who falls asleep at the wheel. Part of my job as a Massachusetts OUI defense attorney is to protect my clients’ civil rights. Given the hysteria around drunk driving — and the lack of hysteria around the apparently far more common sleepy driving accidents — I am concerned about the disparity in how these threats on the road are treated under the law.
For the family and friends of people killed in car crashes, the loss of their loved one matters much more than the specific reason the driver of the other car was impaired. There may be many different ways to be distracted or impaired while driving, but all of them have the same dangers — injuries, deaths, and property damage. Jacquelyn Polito, a registered sleep clinician at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, said drowsy drivers may pose the same danger as drunk drivers with a blood alcohol count of 0.10 percent, which is actually above the legal threshold of 0.08. As I discussed recently, scientific research shows that texting drivers are even more dangerous than drivers who are drunk or high. And this summer, a study by the AAA found that pets are the third most dangerous distraction for drivers, after talking on the phone and texting.
Why is it that, of the many kinds of impairments or distractions that can cause accidents on the roads, the only kind that is treated severely under the law is drunk driving? Many of the other kinds of distractions and impairments are not even taken seriously by the law. For example, the new Massachusetts distracted driving law was passed without the ban on driving with pets in the driver’s lap that it originally included, and its penalties for texting while driving are far less severe than those for driving under the influence of alcohol. Instead of treating all dangerous driving equally, the law singles out drunk drivers for special penalties. Perhaps the real issue is social disapproval of drinking, not the level of danger posed by driving under the influence.
As irrational as it may be, it’s unlikely that OUI penalties are going to be relaxed anytime soon. That’s why it’s important for anyone charged with drunk driving to immediately contact a Massachusetts drunk driving defense attorney. There’s too much at stake in an OUI conviction to leave your fate up to chance. Even with a first OUI conviction, the penalties can include hundreds of dollars in fines and jail or probation for up to 2.5 years. Compare that with the simple $100 fine that drivers over 18 would face if caught texting.