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Sleepless in New Jersey -- it could make you a criminal

By: Staff

Date: Monday, 22. October 2007

New Jersey's new sleep and driving law means that the 24 million or so Americans who work in extended hours jobs had better beware of sleep deficit. "Maggie's Law," as it's called, was passed in June, 2003, and makes it illegal to knowingly drive a vehicle while impaired by lack of sleep. Other states will now likely consider such legislation.

By laying out a specific rule about driving and fatigue the New Jersey law attempts to make it easier to lay criminal charges against a driver who kills or injures someone due to falling asleep at the wheel. However, the law could have important liability implications for companies that are deemed to have pressured drivers into pushing the limits of fatigue in order to meet the demands of delivery schedules.

Maggie's Law originated in 1997, from a traffic crash in which 20-year-old Maggie McDonald was killed when a driver crossed three lanes of traffic and hit her car head on. The driver admitted he had been awake for 30 hours before the accident, and had also been using drugs. In the ensuing trial, the Jury deadlocked 9 to 3 on a conviction. At a second trial, the defense argued there was no law in New Jersey against falling asleep at the wheel. The judge did not allow the jury to consider the driver's sleep deprivation and he received a suspended jail sentence and a $200 fine.

"This is the first law of its kind in the U.S.," says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), and it commends the state for its initiative. "Maggie's Law should pave the way for other states to take a serious look at sleep deprived drivers by passing similar legislation and implementing aggressive educational programs," states the NSF.

Whether Maggie's law succeeds in reducing fatigue-related crashes in New Jersey remains to be seen. It certainly opens the way for an expensive process of passing similar laws in other states. However, as the NSF points out, a survey it conducted in 1998 showed that in all states except Alabama, people can be charged under existing laws for causing a crash or fatality after falling asleep at the wheel. referred to the legislation as the "Let's criminalize everything dept."

"It is nicknamed "Maggie's Law" after the victim of one such collision, thus confirming the truism that any enactment tagged with the given name of some recent victim ("Megan's Law", etc.) will combine sentimentality of intent with harshness of result," states the web site.

Necessary or not, Maggie's Law could have broad implications for the trucking industry. "Under the new law" states, "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."

There has already been a steady increase in driver accident fatigue legislation, states "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," it adds.

The US Department of Transportation identifies fatigue as the number one safety problem in transportation operations, costing over $12 billion a year. Sleepy drivers are as much a danger as alcohol impaired drivers, says the U.S. National Highway traffic Safety Administration. Two recent Australian studies demonstrate that being awake for 18 hours produces impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05% and 0.1% after 24 hours; 0.08% is considered legally drunk.

According to National Sleep Foundation polls, more than half of America's drivers (over 100 million people) admit to driving while drowsy, and nearly two out of five say they actually fell asleep at the wheel.

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All Comments (34)

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You make me angry. Basicly you're giving people who are criminals a freebee. Norw they can compare an accident to a homicide and get away with it just because you're a pissed off parent. Thank you for screwing every nurse, doctor or college student because of an accidendt. I see you as the person taking child care away in this country. I am sorry that you lost your daughter but I wish it was you because it seems to me that she wouldn't be vendictive just cause she can. You're ruining the world giving actual criminals a defense


So on these programs, where the police officers claim that "they worked for 12 hours, then went home, and as they just fell asleep, the phone rings to summon them back to work" (homicide detectives) These cops should ALL be charged then. They are KNOWINGLY getting behind the wheel, sleep deprived. They admit it all the time. I don't think that being a cop, makes you immune to the laws of nature. All cops need to be subject to a work log, like a truck driver.


This is complete and total BS. I am sorry for this Mother's loss, but you can't turn every ACCIDENT into a crime!!! What's next, going to jail because you ran a red light? And how in the hell are you going to prove that someone didn't sleep the night before? You just made sure that noone tells the police they were sleep deprived. This is not going to bring Maggie back


This law was brought to my attention on 48 hours tonight. I can't believe the people that seriously think because a man wakes up in the morning, drug free, alcohol free and not under the influence of any controled substance, falls asleep goes off the road, wakes up and tries to make a correction and gets in an accident is criminally responsible and charged vehiclular man slaughter should get more time. Its what we call an accident and people have to live with killing someone as it is. Then people like Maggies mother come along and try to make things worse. Im glad I don't live in Nj. Nanny State!

Gina Tyson,

I just was speaking to my neighbor who recently lost her daughter and unborn grandson to an oncoming driver. She told me about Maggie. I am so relieved to hear you have made a difference to so many. Now I hope my neighbors can do the same for their loss. The young man at the moment who took these two wonderful and precious life's seems to only be getting a ticket. They are trying to have a law passed for texting as you drive. I pray for your loss.


i feel that it is very important to sleep and if you are sleepy dont drive. sleeping is a very powerful and it is not to be play with. with a blink of a eye you can get yourself killed or even other innocent people.


This is a ridiculous law. I saw the documentary about the girl, Maggie, who lost her life. It was a terrible tragedy. Her mother wanted desperately to have this law enacted--I think to give her daughter's death meaning. More and more parents look to something like this when they lose a child to a sudden and senseless death. I feel for Maggie's mother, but I don't think this is a prudent law. It will hurt many innocent people.
It is true, a driver can get drowsy after a good 8-10 hours of sleep the night before. There are many factors that can cause drowsiness. The heat of the sun, the glare of the sun, the rhythm of the wheels turning. The problem is that it is not always lack of sleep that causes a driver to fall asleep at the wheel.
Today, millions and millions of Americans take some form of medication. What people don't realize is that as alcohol consumption has declined, prescription drug taking has increased to incredible numbers; the amount of prescription medication consumed every day in the U.S. is staggering--not illicit drugs but prescription drugs.
My point is, there is just no way to prove that sleep deprivation is the cause in such an accident--the accident could still happen with or without sleep deprivation.

Sleep Class,

I am taking a sleep class right now and I have learned all about sleep, the signs of being drowsy and those who drive drowsey. I think it is absolutly ridiculous that there are not strict laws about those who drive drowsey. It is not an "accident" if you kill someone because of your ill choice of driving while you were tired. It doesn't matter if you work late hours, work odd shifts, if you are a resident at a hospital, you have no excuse and you don't have the right to kill an innocent person or family because you chose to drive while sleep deprieved.

Bobby Spicer,

Crap like this show how backwards our nation is becoming, did you know its possible to fall asleep with out being sleep deprived, from a condition called road glare/stare if you coincidently fall asleep it still a accident that will be called a accident right since it was a accident that caused a accident. No matter how you look at it, this is like saying if you coincidently get sick and knowingly go out of your house & you spread your virus to a elderly lady who died from the said virus you should be charged with murder or 2nd degree. Oh how about for making people sick at work you should be legally liable for punitive damages for lost wages for the people that stayed home like you should, right since you knew you where sick yet your greedy jackass went to work to make money to support your family. Also I know this from experince just like getting a cold I know no matter if you call and end up telling your work oh I had a hard time sleeping so I can't come in to day because I could "Accidently fall asleep" this is not a possibility trust me i know this. I worked for both cable and a satellite company before becoming injured. All of them companys have people who have crash because of falling asleep though most will lie, but the problem is not the company its because of those yuppies who made this law they want their TV now and they don't care for others only their self and their family I coulde have 8 jobs and if I don't do it they will fire me and find some one willing to take the chance, asleep or not. sadly people treat tv installers the worse like the dude only got you to deal with all day and when they jobs rushed they wonder why, then they call and complain so people need to slow down working all night, and most installers work 6 days a week especially at mastec and direct tv, i was one of the few installer who did it right every time and then was removed because i was not going fast enough and this is at many times dealing with houses and crawling under houses that have not cable what so ever, then they hire people to put more pressure on us by getting managers that never actually stepped a foot in the field yet if you dont do it right they want to fire you or they send you back to fix it all the way across the state at times from where you 6 other jobs are. Mastec also dropped the pay of direct tv installers by 85% when Mastec took over installing for them, and they out source just about all phone support.

anyways, this law is bullshit.... how about making laws that are actually smart like bars are not allowed to have parking lots..... yet thats ok, anything past a beer is over the limit, thanks


Falling asleep at the wheel is not an "accident". When we get into our cars it is our responsibility to make sure we are in the proper condition to drive. Being sleep deprived and on the verge of falling asleep is not a proper driving condition. It is a choice to drive drowsy. Often times a quick 30 minute nap is all you need to get rid of threatening fatigue, take the time to be a responsible driver become rested. Also, driving isn't a freedom, it’s a privilege. Getting behind the wheel of a car is an activity that can affect others; if you lose control of your vehicle you could seriously injure another person or possibly kill them. I agree that people are ignorant, ignorant about sleep and sleep problems. If the citizens of this great nation would educate themselves about sleep and make simple adjustments to their lives; laws such as this would not be necessary. Furthermore, not all laws are perfect. Of course, there are laws with Maggie’s Law, however it is a great jumpstart to a campaign for healthy sleep habits. I agree with Katelyn, this has nothing to do with the Revolutionary War. American split for England over a constitutional controversy involving representation in Parliament. To everyone, please educate yourselves about sleep. The Promise of Sleep by William Dement it a great resource and an enjoyable read. Thanks for reading.


This law is about keeping people that have not had proper rest from driving so that they wont fall asleep and kill themselves or others. Do not try and accuse the government of trying to control our lives when they are just trying to do the best thing for the most people as possible. This discussion is not about the government controlling our lives. It is about protecting us from others that sometimes are a danger to not only themselves but others as well. Driving drowsy is a choice and if you fall asleep due to driving drowsy that is a choice as well. Im sure whereever you are going they would rather have you show up late than not at all. Pull over and take a 15-30 minute nap. Oh and just so you know, we separated from England because we werent being properly represented in parlament. I fail to see how that connects to this.


Let me clarify this for all of you who are missing the point: Driving while sleep deprived is a CHOICE, not an accident! Wake up - literally. Stop thinking it is no one's fault when it is indeed someone's fault. Take sleep deprivation seriously and the PRIVILEGE, not the right, of driving seriously. If you are not capable of getting behind the wheel of a car safely, then don't. There are many, many options other than driving while under the influence - of drinking or of drugs or of excessive sleep debt. Stop whining about your lifestyle or your choice of career or your mean boss and make good adult decisions based upon what is right or what is wrong. Driving while under the influence of excessive sleep debt is a choice that can lead to disastrous consequences. People who choose to do that and take a life should be charged with vehicular homicide, because that's what it is. Someone else is dead because of your bad choice. Man up and take what's coming to you then. Better yet, use your God-given brain and figure out what COULD happen beforehand and then make a different, wiser choice.


I already wrote once but I just thought of something. I'd like to know how many of these idiots who think this law is a good thing use their phones while they drive. If you REALLY want to do something, get off yer damn phones while your behind the wheel. THAT is a choice and it's just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, in my opinion, it's WORSE than drunk driving simply because there are more people doing it and for more hours of the day. How many people are drunk driving at 9am?? Very few. How many people are on their phones, either calling or texting, at 9am? A LOT!!! Falling asleep IS an accident. I just thought of another law I think I'm going to work to get passed. I think I'm going to try and get ignorant fools to be 'fixed' so they can't breed and create more stupid people. Keep passing laws and sooner or later there WILL be laws like this. You people are opening a can of worms and one day we won't even be able to pretend we have freedom anymore. We're forgetting WHY our ancestors separated from England.


OMG, This is the most screwed up law I've ever seen passed. The fact that this young lady is dead is truly tragic. I don't dispute that but to make MORE laws to dictate what people can and can't do just isn't right. My God, now the government is telling us how much sleep we have to have to be able to drive?!?!?!?! WTF??? This was an ACCIDENT and I'm sick and tired of people needing to blame someone else because something bad happens in their lives. When a child gets cancer, which is about the most tragic thing I can think of, should they sue GOD????? You people are ignorant as hell. I really do feel for this family but bad things happen. I bet every damn one of you people bitching about this HAVE fallen asleep at one time or another while driving. You can say you haven't, but YOU know the truth. It happens to everyone at one time or another. Also, this is going to be almost impossible to prosecute. It's going to waste taxpayers dollars and they are going to get VERY FEW convictions. This is ignorance in its' truest form. What, in God's name, did I fight for this country for??? Why have people died in the name of "freedom" when we don't have anything close to freedom in this country. When the government starts dictating the amount of sleep you have to have, something has gone waaaaaay out of wack. Bad things happen people!!!!! Get over it and STOP looking for someone to blame. Sometimes things just happen. This family has my deepest sympathies as far as their loved one who was killed but as for pushing people into feeling sorry enough for them to pass a stupid law, I want to slap the taste out of her mouth. She got people to feel sorry for her, some politician wanted votes, *POOF* another dumbass law is passed. I get offended when I'm in public and I smell that someone has passed gas. I think I'm going to get a law passed, "Tom's Law" will make FARTING in public illegal. Come on people, get the government OUT of our lives. Stop finding new ways to get 'big brothers' nose farther up our ass.


Dumb, stupid, waste of time.


And Wizard, I hope you still look at this website because you are like so many arrogant doctors out there who think they are God and deserve some special treatment. There are on call rooms!!!! Yes it sucks..but sleep there if you are too tired to drive home!!!! After all as a doctor, it is your job to save lives, right? And perhaps you and your fellow sleep deprived residents should advocate to further change the resident work hours. Last I checked..they were changed and are pretty much abided by. Lets not forget...NOBODY made you become a doc..YOU chose that knowing what the job entailed, The long hours, sleepless nights, time be prepared. There is no excuse for your ignorance. You really should be ashamed of yourself!! And I am NOT a bank teller w/ a nine to five job, not that it would make a difference in your arguemnent, I am a MICU nurse who would run circles around you and have busted MY butt saving lives overnight but I choose to rest up at work before getting behind the wheel. Who's smarter now arrogant punk?!


What is the matter with half of you?! I mean seriosly. I grew up with Maggie. We had sleep overs together, we had classes together, and shared secrets with one another. Maggie was not just some 20 year old killed by bad luck!! That kid was ASLEEP & he KNEW he was too tired to drive! Not to mention on drugs.
I am a nurse who has worked many LONG hours overnight in the ICU at UPenn. There have been several times that I KNEW I was too tired to drive & I made the decision not to. In fact, many hospitals world wide have cut physician work hours due to this exact reason...a human being hits a certain point when they can no longer function and become a threat to all those around them.
Come on now people, what if that was your child, would you be so heartless? Maggie was one of the kindest people I have ever known & it broke my heart to learn of this tragedy.
If you are too tired to drive, pull over, choose not to drive. You never know whose life you may effect...or take.



Michelle Fenske,

After the long working hours, do you have to get in a car and drive? Could you take a taxi, bus, ride a bike or car pool? There are answers to your lack of sleep. Today, so many people find excuses vs. doing what is right. It may be harder to make the right choice, but if it could save a life….then, it is worth it. Especially, since that is your line of work.

Look …until something like this happens to you (losing a loved one - especially a child), you will never know the pain one suffers. When you have to go to the hospital to identify your eight-year-old son’s body, it will affect your life forever. The last image of my son is with his head cut open from side to side. Looking at his left side of his face and only seeing raw flesh and blood. Looking at his little body and grieve for the future I will no longer have with my son. To set the table with one less plate, to celebrate holidays by going to his gravesite, to hear no more laughter… the hardest thing in the world. Wizard, Blake too wanted to help others. He wanted to join the military and become a doctor to save lives. If he was alive and have the opportunity as you have….I bet he would not be complaining about the hours. Blake would have been honored to make a difference and save a life! So please make a difference it starts with just one person. Will it start with you?


Your job as a doctor is to SAVE lives - not take them. Your arrogance is unbelievable. Just because you make a lot of money as a doctor does not make you any better than anyone else. You're not the only one who works hard for a living. There is a huge problem with the professional hazing that occurs with the ridiculous hours that medical interns and residents have to put in. It is slowly changing state by state. But YOU have a CHOICE. If you are that tired, then instead of immediately going home, take a nap at the hospital. Or call someone to come and get you. Or take a cab with the big bucks that you make that makes you better than everybody else. And for you to attack Michelle who has lost her son and her father-in-law to a drowsy driver is unforgivable. Some doctor you're going to be! Oh - and one more thing. If you're so darned tired, why are you wasting time posting comments about this at 2 in the morning? Get some sleep.


OK Wizard you got a point. What do I need to do to support you?


To connor:

Yeah, you have a solution to that? To residents, the 24-hour shift is a cakewalk compared to what it used to be. Before that, residents were expected to work 36 hours straight. So if you don't want us to drive home sleepy, then why don't YOU try to speak up about our working conditions so we don't have to drive home sleepy? If us residents tried that, we would be blacklisted as complainers at work and possibly even fired.


looks like wizard thinks its OK to drive sleepy just because your working life or pay scale demands it. So a life (or more) could be sacrificed so Wizard can keep working under poor conditions ...hmmmmm - am I the only one who sees a problem with that?


To michelle fenske:

Okay, since you're trying to get us to put yourself in your shoes, how about trying to put yourself in ours? Try working as a doctor (a resident) for 24 hours straight, where you are expected not only to stay awake for all that time, but also make life-and-death decisions. Why don't you try telling your story to our attending physicians and hospital administrators? See if they try to cut our hours then, so we can get home and actually get some sleep, and we won't have to worry about causing an accident and getting drawn and quartered by people like you after we have worked harder and longer than you have in your entire life. My guess is that you're a bank teller or some other worker who only has a nine-to-five job with frequent breaks, and therefore doesn't understand.

Michelle Fenske,

Sorry reader(s)...I was so upset over Donna's comments I mad many grammar errors. So, I rewrote my thoughts.

Donna- Heartless

Right now, I am so upset to read about your comment.

On 8/11/08 my son Blake age 8, daughter Makaela age 9, and my father-in-law Howard were on their way to Colorado for the yearly family trip. They were heading west bound. At 4:15 a.m. a woman heading east bound fell asleep at the wheel crossing the median went air bound and landed on top of my Howard's truck and continued to travel another 200 feet before stopping.

As the result of her choice not to sleep for 19 hours (which she admitted) my 8 year old
Son Blake and father-in-law Howard were killed. I will never see my son grow-up and enjoy all the things a mother/father should. The driver (killer) is still alive to live her life enjoy her holiday with family and be able to grow old.

In the mean time, my husband and I have to comfort my other children from their nightmares, tears, and loss of weight. Them wanting a new a new home, not wanting to attend school etc.

Therefore, in Maggie's law the driver should have been charged for drugs and sleepless.

However, miss heartless...YOU HAVE, A CHOICE AND YOU KNOW WHEN YOU ARE TIRED. Just as you have a choice to drink and drive. People need to be responsible for their choices. There is a difference from yawn vs. driving all day and night. There is a difference when you had a bad night’s sleep and tired heading to work or school.

The difference is when you are nodding your head, rolling down your window for fresh air, turning up the radio to avoid falling asleep....THEN YOU SHOULD NOT BE DRIVING!!!

Therefore, I would rethink your statement and you will never know or understand until you receive a phone call and have to go to the hospital and hold your cold lifeless child in your arms.


MIchelle Fenske,

Donna- Heartless

Right know I am so up set to read your comment.

On 8/11/08 my son Blake age 8, daughter Makaela age 9, and my father-in-law Howard were on their way to Colorado for the yearly family trip driving west bound. At 4:15 a.m. a woman heading east bound fell asleep at the wheel crossing the mediam went air bound and landed on top of my Howard's truck and continued to travel another 200 feet before stopping.

As the result of her choice not to sleep for 19 hours (which she admitted) my 8 year son Blake and father-in-law Howard were killed. I will never see my son grow-up and enjoy all the things a mother/father should. The driver (killer) is still alive to live her life enjoy her holiday with family and be able to grow old.

In the mean time....My husband and I have to comfort my other children from their nightmares, tears, and loss of weight. Them wanting a new a new home, not wanting to attend school etc.

So in Maggie's law the driver should have been charged for drugs and sleepless.

However miss heartless....YOU HAVE A CHOICE AND YOU KNOW WHEN YOU ARE TIRED. Just as you have a choice to drink and drive. People need to be responsible for their choices. There is a difference from yawn vs driving all day and night. There is a difference when you had a bad nights sleep and tired heading to work or school.

The difference is when you are nodding your head, rolling down your window for fresh air, turning up the radio to avoid falling asleep....THEN YOU SHOULD NOT BE DRIVING!!!

So...I would rethink your statement and you will never know or understand until you receive a phone call and have to go to the hospital and hold your cold lifeless child in your arms.



This law IS absurd. I would think that lumping all sleepy drivers together in criminal intent would downplay horrible details involved in any given case. In Maggie's accident, the man was awake for 30 hours with illegal drugs in his system. How can it be possible that anyone wants the same punishment for this dirt bag as a 20-year old driving back to college two hours away at 3:00am for exams and becomes tired at the wheel??? Shouldn’t the punishment be based on details surrounding the case, not just being a “drowsy driver”?

With gas/food/utility prices on the rise, people are getting 2 - 3 jobs just to make ends meet. Are we really feeling the need to punish them further by forcing them choose between making money or getting more sleep?

In addition, what type of standard are we going to support to decide whether someone did not have enough sleep? Is there a measurement that we are getting in place, or are we just going to prosecute anyone not having “8 hours of sleep”? How are we going to enforce this measurement? Is there scientific evidence to suggest how many hours of sleep someone has had, or are we just going to go by the, as you call it, “criminal’s” word?

Furthermore, good luck finding that ONE driver whom has NEVER yawned while driving to or from work, school, or any other function.

My intent is not to be a heartless woman, however, I am trying to be realistic. I would imagine I would be devastated if this situation happened to me, but I can't see myself ever wanting to punish a "drowsy driver" by putting them in prison with a gun-totting, gang-banging, drug-selling monsters without taking into consideration any other aspect of the case other than he/she was sleepy.

Mike Jackson,

I too am sick of preventable accidents, especially those caused by mothers distracted by their children in the car. We should pass a law and these people should be locked up in prison. That is justice for their innocent victims.


"Accidents happen" is absurd. The vast majority of so-called accidents are preventable. In the trucking industry the low cost of transportation is borne by the driver, who is pushed into longer and longer hours to make a living. Fallign asleep is a big problem for drivers and now they have to be careful.

For the rest of us, we don't take fatigue and driving seriously enough, and we forget that eating sugary foods can cause sleepiness and worse, if you lack sleep, even one alcoholic drink can be a major problem.

Maybe Maggie's law will make us take this seriously.


This law, and the people pushing it are absurd... Accidents happen. Treating someone like a criminal for such a thing is beyond unethical and completely irrational. I understand the pain of losing a loved one, but treating good people like criminals is crazy, and frankly scary.

Kathy Humphries,

On January the 17,2008 My 10 year old nephew left for school.He never returned home.A driver whom claims that he fell asleep has never been charged with this crime They say his biggest punishment is that he has to live with this. Yea right he is still here. He struck my nephew so hard he was knocked out of his shoes and they found his arm under the mans truck not counting half of his face was gone.This is what we the victums live with every day .I will not rest until this law is passed in Maryland If you are from Maryland and want to join the fight contact me at We will have the law passed to have these people pay for there crimes.

S. Avedikian,

My husband was almost killed by a young man who worked for the studios and FELL ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL. No one will claim responsibility
I wish there was someone out there who could help bring justice to the general population. Employeers need to be STOPPED.

D Hyde,

My Dad and brother were killed Oct 2. The lady who hit them head on stated to the state patrol officer that she fell asleep. Please, don't drive sleepy! My nephew is 11 months old, and is now without his father and grandfather. Not to mention the losses that are felt within our family and community.

robert boney,

This law is needed; we lost our son
from a drunk driver in 2004 who was claimed he was tired (3am accident).

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