Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving: What’s the Difference?

Drunk driving and drowsy driving can share similar characteristics, especially to the casual observer. In fact, driving after 24 hours of wakefulness is the equivalent of driving with a .10 blood alcohol content (BAC), according to the National Sleep Foundation. However, the key difference between drunk driving and drowsy driving is that the former is a criminal offense that can lead to consequences, such as license suspension, court costs, and other civil and criminal penalties. Drowsy driving, on the other hand, does not generally carry criminal charges, but may lead to civil penalties in some cases.

Is Drowsy Driving Legal in Arizona?

Most people are familiar with the idea that drunk driving is a criminal offense; however, the legal status of drowsy driving is not immediately clear. We do know drowsy driving contributes to many accidents throughout the state of Arizona, and driving while sleepy has serious inherent risks. No current statute prohibiting drowsy driving in Arizona exists, but a dangerously tired driver could face criminal or civil liability if his or her actions give rise to serious injury or death.

If a drowsy driver is acting dangerously on the roadways, he or she may face charges of reckless driving in accordance with the Arizona Vehicle Code. This class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by fines and a possible 90 days in jail, but more than one occurrence in a 24-month period could lead to a class 1 misdemeanor conviction under Arizona law. This carries a revocation of driving privileges and at least 20 days in jail.

If a drowsy driver’s actions also lead to fatal or serious injury of another person, he or she could be civilly liable for any damages that result. In some cases, a prosecutor may choose to pursue charges of vehicular manslaughter when drowsy driving results in death. In Arizona, vehicular manslaughter is considered a class 2 felony, and a conviction could lead to four to 10 years’ imprisonment. However, the decision to pursue these types of charges will vary widely depending on the circumstances of an accident and the prosecution involved.

Driving Under the Influence in Arizona

In Arizona, the legal status of driving under the influence is much more clear. DUIs are serious crimes under Arizona law, and occur when a driver operates motor vehicle with a BAC in excess of .08. In general, three different levels of DUI exist:

  • A standard DUI involves a BAC above .08. A first offense carries fines of about $1,500, plus 10 days in jail. Drivers can expect to lose their licenses for 90 days and get an interlocking device on their vehicles for 12 months. A second offense can lead to $3,500 in fines, a one-year revocation of driving privileges, up to 90 days in jail, and an interlocking device for up to 12 months.
  • An extreme DUI involves a BAC above .15. This is a much more serious offense, and can involve 30 days in jail, $2,800 in fines, mandated counseling, driver’s license suspension, and an interlocking device for 12 months for the first offense.
  • A super extreme DUI requires a BAC above .2. The first offense carries a penalty of 45 days in jail, fines totaling $3,200, at least a 90-day license suspension, counseling, and an interlocking device for 18 months.

In addition, drunk drivers may be civilly liable for any injuries or damages they cause to people or property as a result of their endangered driving.

Drunk driving and drowsy driving may have similar side effects, but the law tends to punish the former behavior more harshly. Even so, drowsy drivers may face criminal and civil liability for their actions when they result in property damage, serious injuries or death.