Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jail an option for drowsy driving?

Ophadell Williams, was driving a bus on what prosecutors said was just a few hours of sleep when it crashed on the way back from a Connecticut casino, killing 15 passengers. He is being prosecuted in New York on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. His crime is drowsy driving and he faces 15 years in prison.

According to the New York Times, drowsiness has also been cited in criminal cases against drivers in more than half-a-dozen other states, including Florida, New Jersey and Texas. In Virginia last month, a bus driver was convicted of involuntary manslaughter; authorities said that he fell asleep before a crash that killed four passengers and injured dozens of others.

Criminally prosecuting drowsy driving follows successful efforts to criminalize other dangerous driving habits, like speeding, drinking alcohol, texting and talking on using cellphones. But drowsy driving, which the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety calls “one of the most significant, unrecognized traffic safety problems,” faces tougher legal hurdles. According to the Times, a blood-alcohol test can show whether a driver was drunk. Skid marks may betray a speeder. And cellphone records will reveal whether someone was texting right before a crash. But drowsiness is a personal and often fleeting state of mind that leaves no permanent record.

Law enforcement officials have  found ways to prove drowsy driving.  Prosecutors have presented evidence of fatigue by reconstruction, often with the assistance of traffic cameras, event data recorders, GPS tracking and even cellphone records. “I would not be surprised based on everything that’s now available to investigators and prosecutors to see more of these cases being charged,” Joanne Thomka, director of the National Traffic Law Center of the National District Attorneys Association, told the Times.

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