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Can Drowsy Driving Result in Negligent Homicide Charges?

Drowsy driving is associated with an estimated 100,000 vehicle collisions per year in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that approximately 71,000 injuries and 1,500 fatalities annually are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. In 1997, Washington state proposed a bill allowing a driver who causes a fatal accident due to falling asleep behind the wheel, to be charged with ‘sleeping-driver homicide’ as a gross misdemeanor. Although that particular bill failed, other similar bills have since passed. Particularly in the past five years, with the dangers of distracted driving in the spotlight, the issue of fatigued driving has been resurrected.

Current Fatigued Driving Laws Across the Country

Although many states penalize drowsy driving, it usually falls under general, unsafe driving laws, such as reckless driving. However, two states have specific ‘drowsy driving’ laws – New Jersey and Arkansas. New Jersey’s legislation considers anyone who has been driving without sleep for 24 hours to be driving recklessly, the same classification given to driving under the influence. Arkansas has a similar law. Parallel to Washington’s 1997 proposal, Arkansas legally considers fatigued driving to be negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor. New York has similar laws pending.

What Is Massachusetts’ Stance on Drowsy Driving?

Massachusetts’ Senator Richard T. Moore’s 2013 proposed bill to combat drowsy driving is currently pending and includes the following:

  • The implementation of a commission to study the impact of fatigued driving on state highways
  • The requirement of commercial drivers with specific minimum body mass to obtain screening for sleep apnea
  • Mandatory education regarding the effects of sleep deprivation on driving as part of the DMV’s licensing application
  • Implementation of a new drowsy driving definition: the driver has not slept for 22 of the past 24 hours or 140 of the past 168 hours

Senator Richard T. Moore was responsible for introducing the Drowsy Driving Act of 2005. Also known as Rob’s Law, the bill was created after US Army Reserve Major Robert Raneri was killed by a teenager who was admittedly sleep deprived after playing video games all night. The bill included the addition of fatigued driving questions to the DMV standard and school bus drivers’ license exams. It also called for a sleep disorder expert to be appointed to the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ advisory board. Rob’s Law would also consider driving while fatigued to be reckless driving and, in the event of a subsequent fatality, ‘motor vehicle homicide resulting from sleeping.’ Although the bill has not passed, it has brought attention to the dangerous impact that drowsy driving can have on the general public.

Altman & Altman, LLC – Boston’s Car Accident Lawyers

Being involved in a motor vehicle accident can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. You may suffer a range of injuries that can result in a long, expensive recovery or a lifetime of chronic pain. If you have been injured, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost income. At Altman & Altman, LLC, our thorough and compassionate attorneys are committed to helping you get your life back. We understand the physical, emotional, and financial impact that motor vehicle accidents can have on your quality of life. Our experienced legal team has been protecting the rights of accident and injury victims for nearly 50 years.  Contact us for a free consultation today.

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