CASA GRANDE — Driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous, but driving when tired might be just as bad.
According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, drowsy drivers were contributing factors in 848 Arizona crashes in 2017 and 807 already in 2019. In the DPS District 6 area, which encompasses mostly Pinal County, fatigued driving accounted for 57 collisions in 2017 and 31 so far in 2019.
“Fatigued driving can be categorized along with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or distracted driving. The outcome seems to be all the same in causing collisions,” said Timothy Heinrich, DPS administrative trooper for District 6. “Fatigued is really no different than DUI. Because of the drowsiness of the person, they are not 100-percent alert to react to whatever is in front of them.”
Heinrich said it is possible that a fatigued driver could be charged as impaired, though that is much more difficult for law enforcement officers to enforce.
He said charges in a drowsy driver case might lean more toward a “speed not reasonable or prudent” citation.
“We start talking to the driver and they say they’re just tired,” Heinrich said. “They can be cited for it but for the officer to prove it in court might be a little harder. It would come down to the observations of the trooper and to relay that in court.”
Heinrich said drowsy drivers are often reported as potential drunk drivers because they are weaving all over the road. In one way, the impairment of fatigue can actually be more dangerous than alcohol or drugs because it sneaks up on drivers.
The Highway Patrol often receives “attempt to locate” calls from the public telling communication dispatchers that a driver is weaving all over the road.
“We will stop them and a lot of times they are just tired. We have them pull off at the next exit and get some rest before they start driving again. It is very common,” Heinrich said.
Heinrich recommended that people follow a routine and a plan to avoid fatigued driving.
“Plan regular stops. Don’t try to drive too far. If you start feeling fatigued, find a safe place to pull off the road and get out of the car and walk around. Get out in that fresh air and get woken back up,” he said.
Heinrich even recommended people take a couple-hour nap if they become drowsy on a trip. He said even a 20- to 30-minute power nap will make a huge difference.
“Or just get a good night’s sleep,” he added.
It is not safe to just pull over on the side of the road if you become drowsy, as those vehicles could become a hazard to other cars.
Instead it is better to pull into a rest area or even a store parking lot where it is safe to park.
“Rest areas in Arizona — that’s what they are meant for,” Heinrich said.
Another issue with fatigued drivers is stress, like children in the car.
“Have some activities for them, so you can concentrate on your driving. In return you will not be stressed, which often causes fatigue,” he said.
Heinrich said improperly maintained vehicles can also induce stress due to a breakdown and the delay in traveling.
“Then you have to make up time and maybe you are going to drive a little longer than you planned to. Then you start getting tired,” he added.
If traveling with someone else, it is a great idea to rotate driving responsibilities.
“Find what your limit is to drive and stop before that. Let them drive and get some rest,” he said.
One of the worst times for drowsy driving is sunrise, especially after driving during the night.
“For some reason, when that sun starts coming up, that’s when people start getting fatigued,” Heinrich said.
For more information go to: www.azdps.gov/safety/fatigue.