The Risks of Falling Asleep while Your Friend is Driving

Today, I met a happily married couple for over 25 years who was a painful reminder of the dangers of both falling asleep while driving and also sleeping while being a passenger.  The wife was pushing the husband’s wheelchair as they arrived to see me regarding an employment law related matter.  When I asked how the man ended up being disabled and in a wheelchair, they told me that they were involved in an auto accident over ten years ago when they both took a long-distance trip in their car.

I was surprised to see that while the husband sustained such a serious, crippling injury, the woman seemed like she did not sustain a serious injury.  As I found out, the woman was behind the wheel, driving on a highway, while her husband was sleeping as a passenger next to her in the car. As the woman started falling asleep, she veered off the road and collided into a pole.  Since she was not fully asleep, her body was somewhat “ready” for the impact. Her husband, on the other hand, was in deep sleep.  Thus, at the time of the impact, his body was not able to provide any amortization for the impact and was freely and violently thrown forward, even though the vehicle was not traveling at a high rate of speed, when hitting the tree. As a result he suffered permanent spine injury,  and both of his knees were broken, rendering him unable to walk for the rest of his life.

Ironically, the very reason people switch who sits in the driver seat when going on a long distance trip is in order for the driver to not get too tired and not fall asleep, allowing the person who is not driving to take rest breaks and sleep while being a passenger in the car. As the above example illustrates, this is a very dangerous situation, as even a minor accident or collision will likely hurt a body of a sleeping person much more seriously than that of a  driver who is awake or who is not fully asleep.

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