Can a Driver Be Arrested for Drowsy Driving?

Car Accident | October 29, 2021

Every driver has a responsibility to safely and prudently control a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, not every driver fulfills this responsibility. Drowsy driving is a common problem that leads to drivers falling short of this duty and causing serious car accidents. In Massachusetts, a driver cannot be arrested for drowsy driving, as it is not a crime. However, a driver whose fatigue leads to violated traffic laws, reckless driving or a car accident could face fines or even jail time for his or her actions.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving is one of the most dangerous behaviors exhibited by drivers. Unfortunately, it is also a relatively common problem today in the age of multitasking and hyper-productivity. A driver who is suffering from fatigue or falling asleep behind the wheel cannot safely control a motor vehicle. Drowsy driving is similar to drunk driving in how it affects a driver. Fatigue can cause:

  • Impaired judgment and poor decision-making
  • Blurred vision or dulled senses
  • Lack of awareness of road hazards
  • Daydreaming, inattention or a wandering mind
  • Impaired reflexes and reaction times
  • Lack of muscle strength and control

If a driver falls asleep behind the wheel completely, he or she may crash into another car or fixed object at a high speed without ever touching the brakes. This can cause serious and fatal injuries. Many drivers do not realize how tired they are until it’s too late and they’ve already caused an accident. Drowsy driving is an especially common problem in the commercial trucking industry, as truck drivers are subject to long hours on the road, tight schedules and lack of sleep.

Is Drowsy Driving Against the Law?

No, drowsy driving is technically not against the law in Massachusetts. However, there is a law against reckless driving. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 24 prohibits operating a motor vehicle in a way that endangers lives or public safety. The definition of reckless driving in Massachusetts can include driving while drowsy or fatigued. If a driver is too tired to safely control his or her vehicle, he or she may drive in a way that endangers others. Common examples include:


  • Running red lights or stop signs
  • Speeding or erratic driving 
  • Weaving between lanes of traffic
  • Following too closely behind another car
  • Drifting in and out of a lane
  • Abruptly slamming on the brakes
  • Driving the wrong way


If drowsy driving leads to a lack of vehicle control or otherwise qualifies as reckless driving, the driver could be arrested in Massachusetts. Although reckless driving will typically only result in a ticket and a fine that the driver must pay, it could lead to an arrest if it causes a car accident or there are other aggravating factors, such as a minor present in the car. In this way, drowsy driving could lead to an arrest for a related crime, such as reckless driving, child endangerment or vehicular manslaughter.

Criminal vs. Civil Liability

Whether or not a driver is arrested for drowsy driving, he or she can still be held civilly responsible for a related car accident. Criminal and civil law are two separate justice systems. A driver does not have to be arrested to be held liable – meaning he or she must pay – for a car accident in Massachusetts. Instead, the burden of proof in a fault-based insurance claim or lawsuit is to show that the driver owed the victim a duty of care, breached this duty and caused the car accident.

If you were recently injured in a car accident involving a drowsy or distracted driver, a car accident attorney in Lowell, MA can help you understand and protect your legal rights. You may be entitled to financial compensation from your own insurance provider and/or the drowsy driver’s insurance company. An attorney can help you negotiate for fair financial compensation or take your car accident case to trial, if necessary. You can trust your lawyer to help you hold a drowsy driver accountable for this type of wrongdoing.