Asleep at the Wheel


A few days ago, the Today Show did a report on drivers asleep at the wheel while the vehicle’s automated technology drove the vehicle.  Some of the video clips they showed were alarming, and a quick internet search revealed a lot more examples of drivers caught sleeping at the wheel. Of course, this prompts lots of questions.  Is this safe with the existing technology?  How much can drivers actually rely on automated systems?  Should there be criminal penalties for drivers caught sleeping at the wheel?  Should commercial vehicles be equipped with this technology?  Read on for some information on these issues.

More and more vehicles are equipped with automated technology that range from adaptive cruise control to lane assist to hands-free or self-driving modes.  Manufacturers consistently say that this type of technology is meant to assist drivers not supplant them and drivers must remain attentive and engaged.  But that message does not seem to be resonating with drivers. A recent AAA study shows that drivers who use these technologies are twice as likely to be distracted than drivers who are not supported by this technology.  Quite simply, drivers simply do not understand the limitations of these systems and place too much faith in them.  The result is sometimes deadly.

Currently, a number of states have criminal laws prohibiting driving while fatigued.  These laws are rooted in the research which has shown that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.  It stands to reason that if you are prohibited from driving with drowsy then driving while asleep is just as big of a no-no.  While Tennessee does not have a law specific to driving fatigued or over reliance on technology, we do have a broad “due care” statute.  T.C.A. 55-8-136 states that operators must drive “at a safe speed, by maintaining a safe lookout, by keeping the motor vehicle under proper control and by devoting full time and attention to operating the motor vehicle, under the existing circumstances to avoid endangering life, limb or property.”   Quite obviously, if a driver is asleep, they are not keeping a proper lookout.  Likewise, if a driver has relied too much on automated technology, then the driver does not have the vehicle under proper control and is not giving his or hers full time and attention to operating the motor vehicle.  Moreover, Tennessee has a statute which provides that autonomous vehicles will be treated, under the law, the same as vehicles with drivers.

Lastly, as for commercial vehicles, Toyota announced this week that it intends to introduce self-driving technology in commercial vehicles such as taxis, on-demand ride services, etc.  Likewise, several companies including UPS, Kodiak Robotics, Embark Trucks and others have announced they have been testing self-driving technology in tractor-trailers.  Given the size and weight of tractor-trailers, this is perhaps the scariest application of self-driving technology.

If you have been involved in a car accident with a driver relying too much on automated technology, give us a call.  We offer a free initial consultation, and our award-winning lawyers handle all car accident cases on a contingency basis which means we only get paid if we recover money for you and your family.  You can reach us anytime at the numbers below:


Nashville: 615-669-3993

Murfreesboro: 615-867-9900

Brentwood: 615-742-4880

Toll-Free: 866-812-8787


Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

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