Can I Be Charged If I Fall Asleep Behind The Wheel In PA?

Many people in Pennsylvania get behind the wheel when they are drowsy. According to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, drowsy drivers may be responsible for up to 6,000 fatal accidents in the U.S. each year. If you fall asleep behind the wheel, you could be charged with careless or reckless driving. If you cause an accident in which someone is injured or killed, the penalties you might face will be more severe. While careless driving and reckless driving are both summary traffic offenses, they can still have a major impact.

For example, if you have a commercial driver’s license, a conviction for either one of these offenses could cause problems with your license and potentially end your career. If you cause an accident because you fell asleep behind the wheel, you could also face civil liability through a personal injury lawsuit in addition to any charges you might face. Here is some information about how falling asleep behind the wheel is treated in Pennsylvania from DiCindio Law.

Careless Driving Charges After Falling Asleep At The Wheel

Under 75 Pa. C.S. § 3714, you can be charged with careless driving if you drive with careless disregard about the safety of others. If you drive while drowsy and fall asleep behind the wheel, an officer would likely charge you with careless driving. Careless driving is a summary offense, and a conviction will result in three points added to your license. Under the Federal Motor Carrier Act of 1980, careless driving is also considered to be a serious traffic offense.

If you caused an accident in which someone else was injured, careless driving could come with a fine of $250. If you caused an accident in which someone was killed after falling asleep behind the wheel, you could be fined $500. A conviction for careless driving could also result in a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

Reckless Driving

Under 75 Pa. C.S. § 3736, you can be charged with reckless driving if you drive with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. This offense assumes that the driver had some degree of intent, which distinguishes it from careless driving. If the police believe you deliberately acted in an irresponsible manner while driving, you could face reckless driving charges. Since most people who drive while drowsy is not acting in willful and wanton disregard but instead simply drift off to sleep instead of pulling off of the road, it is less likely that you would be charged with reckless driving for falling asleep behind the wheel and more likely you would be charged with careless driving.

If you are convicted of reckless driving, it is still a summary offense. However, you could be fined $200 and have your license suspended for six months even if you did not cause an accident. If you are convicted of reckless driving after causing an accident that injured someone, you would face a fine of $1,000 and 90 days in jail. If you are convicted of reckless driving after causing an accident in which someone was killed, you could face up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $25,000. Driving recklessly and causing a fatal accident can result in vehicular manslaughter charges.

Potential punitive damages in a civil lawsuit

If you cause an accident in which someone is injured or killed after you fell asleep behind the wheel, you could also face a civil lawsuit. Civil lawsuits can be filed by the victims of the accident and can proceed at the same time as your careless driving case.
Through a civil lawsuit, an injured victim can seek monetary damages for his or her losses. These types of damages include compensatory damages for the victim’s economic and noneconomic losses. You might also be responsible for paying punitive damages, which are additional monetary amounts meant to punish a defendant instead of to compensate the victim.

In Commonwealth v Pedota, 64 A.3d 634 (2013), the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that falling asleep behind the wheel and causing a fatal accident could be considered gross negligence. In that case, the man was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after falling asleep behind the wheel of a semi-truck while driving on an interstate. The court found that ignoring the common signs of exhaustion and failing to pull off the road to get some sleep could meet the willful or wanton disregard standard.

In a civil tort lawsuit, punitive damages may be available in cases in which the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent or in reckless disregard for the safety of others. Given the Pedota case, it is possible that a court could award punitive damages when a person falls asleep behind the wheel and causes a fatal accident. However, whether or not punitive damages might be ordered would depend on the facts and circumstances. For example, if you fell asleep behind the wheel after staying awake for a couple of days and still got behind the wheel and drove on a busy interstate despite feeling exhausted, it is likelier that you would be ordered to pay punitive damages in a civil wrongful death lawsuit than if you suddenly fell asleep without warning.

Find a criminal defense attorney near me

If you are facing careless driving or reckless driving charges in Pennsylvania after falling asleep behind the wheel, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law. With the help of an attorney, you might be able to get your charges dismissed or reduced, depending on the facts. Even if you are only facing a summary offense, it is still a good idea to vigorously defend against your charges. You might be able to avoid getting points assessed against your license and a potential suspension of your license.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA criminal defense lawyers at DiCindioLaw, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC

29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535