Maggie’s Law, the recently signed New Jersey statute which turns drowsy driving into a criminal offense, could reportedly significantly increase the legal risks employers face from extended hours operations.
Under the new law, a sleep deprived driver who causes an accident, after being awake for more than 24 hours, can be convicted of vehicular homicide. The law raises the specter of corporate liability in cases of drowsy employees who work long hours, high amounts of overtime, double-shifts, or even 24-hour on-call periods at their employer’s request.
Maggie’s Law is intended to address the dangers of drowsy driving. Several scientific studies have reportedly demonstrated that people who have been awake for 24 hours are impaired to the same level as someone with a blood-alcohol level of .10 percent, which is recognized as legally drunk in all states.
The 24 million Americans who work in extended hours jobs outside the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. will reportedly be particularly affected by Maggie’s Law.
Many extended hours employees routinely stay awake for 24 hours on their first nightshift of the work week. Similarly, medical professionals and other emergency services personnel are often required to remain on-duty for 24-hour shifts. In emergency situations, utility linemen and technical support personnel work up to 48 hours without rest. These employees are confronted daily with the challenge of drowsy driving.
“For extended hours employers in New Jersey and surrounding states, Maggie’s Law increases the risk of corporate liability should an employee cause a fatal drowsy driving accident,” said Dr. Martin Moore-Ede, chairman and CEO of Circadian Technologies, Inc. (Circadian). “We are seeing a steep increase in driver fatigue accident litigation. In fact, the US Department of Transportation identifies fatigue as the number one safety problem in transportation operations, with a cost in excess of $12 billion a year.”
According to Dr. Moore-Ede, “Employers must consider options for mitigating this risk, such as educating employees on the danger of drowsy driving and controlling long work hours, and developing policies that minimize this potential new legal liability.”