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Is Driving While Sick Considered Illegal?

We have all felt too sick to do anything. But, is it really possible to be too sick to drive? At least one study has found that the effects of the common cold can impair driving ability by as much as 50 percent, or about the same as eight shots of whiskey.

Whether or not our driving abilities are on par with those of a drunk driver, we all feel worse when we are sick. The fatigue, loss of concentration, headaches, and other symptoms that come with many common ailments certainly can impair our ability to drive. Undoubtedly, certain medical conditions can make driving extremely dangerous, and taking certain prescription medications can make it unsafe to get behind the wheel as well.

In Tennessee, driving while sick is not, itself, a crime. If you have a cold or the flu, you are not breaking the law simply by getting behind the wheel. However, due to the dangers involved, driving while sick or under the influence of prescription medications can be considered negligent, and victims of accidents caused by sick drivers will often be entitled to compensation for their accident-related losses.

What Are the Risks of Driving While Sick?

In order to examine the risks of driving while sick, it can be useful to examine the risks of two other dangerous driving behaviors: distracted driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. The National Safety Council (NSC) defines a driving distraction as anything that takes the driver’s eye or mind off of the road (visual and cognitive distractions) or his or her hands off of the wheel (manual distractions). Many of the effects of driving while sick will fall into one or more of these categories, including:

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Difficulty concentrating due to being sick or ill
  • Looking up directions or calling the doctor’s office
  • Reaching for a tissue or pill bottle

Likewise, many types of illnesses can cause impairments similar to those of alcohol intoxication – regardless of whether or not the level of impairment is on par with spending a night out at the bar. Additional risks of driving while sick include:

  • Drowsiness, fatigue, or falling asleep behind the wheel
  • Impaired decision-making ability
  • Inability to focus on the task at hand

When a driver is unable to control his or her vehicle or make the right decisions behind the wheel, this makes him or her a danger to everyone else on the road. As a result, while not necessarily illegal, driving while sick can constitute a form of negligence under Tennessee law.

Driving While Sick Is Unlawful for Commercial Drivers

Although driving while sick is not illegal for most of us, commercial truck drivers are prohibited from driving while sick under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). Section 392.3, entitled “Ill or Fatigued Operator,” states:

“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle. . . .”

Not only does Section 392.3 of the FMCSR prohibit truck drivers from driving while sick (if their sickness makes it unsafe to drive), but it also prohibits trucking companies from requiring or permitting their drivers to get behind the wheel while they are ill. As a result, in the case of a commercial truck accident involving a sick truck driver, it may be possible to hold both the driver and the trucking company liable. Since violating the federal safety regulations for commercial trucking can be considered a form of per se negligence in Tennessee, proving that a truck driver was unfit to drive due to an illness can be sufficient to establish a claim for financial recovery in some cases.

What Should You Do If You Were Hit by a Sick Driver?

With these legal principles in mind, what should you do if you are involved in a collision with a driver who appears to be sick at the time of the accident?

1. Call 911

As with all accidents, the first thing you should do is call 911. When the responding officer arrives, provide any details that he or she requests and make sure you obtain a copy of the accident report. If the officer observes that the driver is sick and notes this in the accident report, this could help prove your claim for financial compensation.

2. Take Notes

Write down the driver’s vehicle and insurance information, and take note of the factors that make you believe the other driver is sick. Was he or she coughing or sneezing excessively? Did he or she appear feverish? Did he or she admit to being drowsy or under the influence of prescription medications? The more information you can record, the better.

3. Take Photos

Take plenty of photos at the scene of the accident. Document the damage to each vehicle and the scene where the accident occurred. Regardless of whether the other driver was sick or some other factor (such as being distracted) is to blame, you will need evidence to prove that he or she was at fault in the collision.

4. Contact an Attorney

In addition to any information and photos you take at the scene of the accident, you will also need to hire a law firm to promptly conduct a thorough investigation. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, this may involve conducting a forensic investigation at the scene, obtaining video footage of the accident, obtaining the other driver’s medical or phone records, and various other steps. You will also need to work with an attorney to calculate the full extent of your financial and non-financial losses and negotiate a fair settlement with the driver’s insurance company.

Discuss Your Accident with an Injury Lawyer in Clarksville or Springfield, TN

If you have been injured in an accident in Clarksville or Springfield, contact us to speak with an attorney about how to protect your legal rights. You can reach us 24/7, so call 931-650-5484 or tell us how to reach you online now.