Is Highway Hypnosis a Crime?

Criminal Charges Considered in Metro North Train Derailment

An article this week in The Stamford Advocate reported on the tough decisions New York and federal prosecutors will be making in the coming weeks regarding the Metro North train derailment case.  The accident caused the death of 4 passengers and injuries to dozens of commuters.  Initial reports confirm that William Rockefeller, the engineer of the Metro North passenger train, was not intoxicated at the time of the accident, was not distracted with his cell phone, and had had an ample opportunity for sleep.

Additional reports suggest that Mr. Rockefeller may have been subjected to “highway hypnosis” or “drowsy driving.”  As a result, he may have lost awareness of the speed of the train.  This condition can also affect Connecticut drivers who commute up and down the Merritt Parkway and Interstate 95.  We have seen cases where these drivers occasionally drift into other lanes of traffic and cause motor vehicle accidents resulting in criminal charges.  The question New York prosecutors are now wrestling with, along with Connecticut police and prosecutors who deal with similar cases on Connecticut roads and highways is whether these drivers should be criminally liable?

The answer is a resounding NO, and here’s why….

 What is Highway Hypnosis?

Highway hypnosis, also known as drowsy driving, or “white line fever,” occurs when a driver operates a motor vehicle in a dulled, drowsy or almost trance-like state of mind.  They are neither intoxicated, drunk nor sleeping.  Rather, they are hypnotized by the steady and monotonous view in front of them.  It occurs when drivers are operating their vehicles on open highways for an extended period of time.  And as Connecticut residents know, the long stretches of roads on the Merritt Parkway, I-95, and I-684 provide ample opportunity for highway hypnosis to sneak up on Connecticut drivers.

Is Drowsy Driving a Crime?

We’ve worked with clients on cases that involve highway hypnosis or drowsy driving in Connecticut.  These people work several jobs to make ends meet and provide for their families.  Thus, it is not uncommon for people to be working 12 to 15 hour days, and are sleep-deprived.  As a result, they have sometimes found themselves in car accidents that are very similar to the circumstances in the Metro North tragedy.  These people have passed the DWI / DUI field sobriety tests administered by the Connecticut State Troopers or local police.  So without DWI / DUI charges, the question remains should they and can they be charged with a crime.   Should they?  No.  Can they?  Yes.

We find the most common charges that are brought against these drivers in Connecticut are Misdemeanor Reckless Driving under C.G.S. § 14-222, Misdemeanor Reckless Endangerment in the First Degree under C.G.S. § 53a-63, and Felony Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree under C.G.S. 53a-64.  The reason why these charges are frequently invoked by prosecutors and police is because these are not crimes of intent.  That is, you can be charged with these crimes even if you did not specifically intend to commit them or cause these accidents.  That’s the point we make as your attorney—these are accidents, not crimes.  To be charged, however, all that is required is that your conduct is reckless—such as driving on the highway at a high rate of speed in a trancelike state, even if you did not cause an accident.

Reckless Driving Charges

Connecticut Reckless Driving Charges appear to be the most common charge for drivers who get drowsy behind the steering wheel.  It is a broadly written and broadly applied law which Connecticut law enforcement can easily charge in circumstances where they believe the driver is operating the automobile in a way which endangers the life of another.  A top Connecticut reckless driving lawyer can fight these charges by examining the police reports and trying to get the charges reduced from a misdemeanor to a traffic infraction and moving violation.  For a more detailed discussion of Reckless Driving charges in Connecticut, click here.

Reckless Endangerment Charges

Reckless Endangerment charges under C.G.S. §§ 53a-63 and 53a-64 involve accusations of engaging in conduct which creates a risk of physical injury to another person (Second Degree), or engaging in conduct which, with extreme indifference to human life, creates a risk of serious physical injury to another person (First Degree).  Clearly falling asleep at the wheel of a car or train can lead to these reckless endangerment charges, causing drivers to find themselves with felony or misdemeanor charges hanging over their head during the court process.  Again, these statutes are broadly applied and interpreted, and if you are charged with Reckless Endangerment in Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, New Canaan, Darien, Wilton, Weston, or Westport, it is critical that you hire a top Reckless Endangerment attorney.

Civil Liability in Connecticut for Drowsy Driving

In addition to the possibility of being charged with the criminal charges discussed above, a drowsy driver can find themselves being sued in civil court for the personal injury and property damage they have caused with their automobile.  That’s why it’s important to carry a sufficient amount of automobile insurance and excess liability (or umbrella liability) insurance coverage for you and your family.  If you are not sure whether you have a sufficient amount of insurance for scenarios like these, you should contact a top Connecticut criminal lawyer.

Contact Us Today to Handle Your Connecticut Reckless Driving & Reckless Endangerment Case.

Don’t let your highway hypnosis and drowsy driving result in a criminal conviction records.  If you have been charged with reckless driving or reckless endangerment in Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Westport or Westchester County, give a criminal lawyer at Mark Sherman Law a call today to learn how we can help you.  We offer reasonable rates, always provide a “two-attorney” review of your police reports, and we are focused on trying to get you only one result:  a dismissal or acquittal.   We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at (203) 358-4700.