Call Us: 202-630-0939

D.C. Defense: DUI or Drowsy Driving?

by | Feb 12, 2014

It was recently reported that Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan was arrested for DUI in California, where authorities soon after released a video of him appearing to botch a number of field sobriety tests.

Authorities would later report he crashed into an unoccupied Department of Transportation vehicle that was parked on the freeway and indicated Kattan revealed he had been using prescription drugs.

Kattan was quoted later as saying that he passed all the tests, was released without bail and still had a driver’s license. He further explained he had just returned from a 15-hour flight after touring overseas and was “exhausted.”

D.C. DUI defense lawyers would take particular interest in that last statement. If it is true that he passed all field sobriety tests (and a breathalyzer, if it was given), the only real evidence that could be used against him was his confession that he’d been using prescription drugs. Officers might be able to prove impairment by pointing to his supposedly reckless driving and also his own words.

But beyond that, it appears what the police may actually have here is a case of drowsy driving.

There is no question that driving while tired can closely resemble driving while drunk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one out of every six crashes is the result of a driver who is impaired by fatigue. Compare that to about one in every three crashes reportedly caused by drunk drivers.

The NHTSA reports there are about 100,000 crashes in the U.S. annually attributable to drowsy driving. Those result in approximately 1,550 deaths, more than 70,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in economic damages.

But there is a primary difference between drunk driving and drowsy driving, at least from a legal standpoint: One is against the law, the other is not (at least in most cases).

The National Conference of State Legislators issued a report in July 2013 that there are only two states that have approved drowsy driving laws. In Arkansas, a driver who causes a fatal crash after being without sleep for 24 hours can be charged with a class A misdemeanor. In New Jersey, a driver without sleep for 24 hours is considered to be “driving recklessly,” and faces the same punishment as a drunk driver.

Other states have enacted days or weeks of recognition or awareness of the issue, but it’s still not technically illegal to drive tired. The primary exception would be if you are a commercial driver, in which case you would be beholden to federal hours of service rules.

As of right now, there is no test to determine sleepiness the way there is for intoxication, so it’s more of a subjective determination. Additionally, police tend to have little or now training in order to differentiate between drowsiness and chemical intoxication.

Fatigued driving is unquestionably inadvisable for everyone. However, from a criminal liability standpoint, it would be better to prove a person was merely drowsy as opposed to under the influence of a specific substance.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.