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What You Should Know About Drowsy Driving

Sleepiness and driving is quite a dangerous combination. Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but don’t realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. Much like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment, and greatly increases your risk of crashing.

According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of adult drivers, about 168 million people, say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year and 37 percent have even admitted to falling asleep at the wheel. If that wasn’t scary enough, 13 percent said they have done so at least once a month. 4 percent, around 11 million drivers, also admitted to having an accident or near-accident because they had dozed off or were too tired to drive properly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police reported car accidents are a direct result of driver drowsiness each year. This results in about 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. However, due to how challenging it is to attribute sleepiness as a cause, it is likely that the real number is much higher.

The Challenges Of Sleep Related Accidents

Though it is nearly impossible to determine with certainty the cause of a fatal crash where drowsy driving is suspected, there are a number of clues left behind at a crash scene to tell investigators that the person must have fallen asleep at the wheel. For example, drowsy driving accidents will often only involve a single vehicle with a lone driver and the injuries will be serious or fatal in nature. Also evidence of evasive maneuvers are typically absent in cases of drowsy driving.

Unlike with alcohol-related crashes, no blood, breath, or other objective test for sleepiness behind the wheel currently exists that investigators could give to a driver after an accident. This makes training in identifying drowsiness quite difficult.

Causes And Symptoms Of Drowsy Driving

The definition of drowsy driving or driver fatigue relies on how the concept of “fatigue” or “drowsiness” is defined. Fatigue is generally a term used to describe the experience of being “sleepy” or “tired”. There are several underlying causes of sleepiness, fatigue, and drowsy driving. Including too little sleep, interrupted sleep, untreated sleep disorders, chronic sleep debt, the use of sedating medications, and several other factors.

Sleepiness or fatigue may cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Impaired reaction time, judgment, and vision

  • Issues with information processing and short-term memory

  • Decreased performance, vigilance and motivation

  • Increased moodiness and aggressive behavior

Who Is At Risk?

Sleep related crashes are most common among young people, adults with children, and shift workers. According to the latest research:

  • Adults between the ages of 18-29 were more likely to drive while drowsy than any other age group.

  • Men are more likely to drive drowsy than women

  • Adults with children in the household are more likely to drive drowsy compared to those without

  • The more sleep deprived you are, the higher the risk of an accident. Those who get less than 5 hours of sleep increase their risk 4 to 5 times.

  • The amount of impairment caused after being awake for 24 hours is equal to the amount of impairment caused when you are legally drunk.

Getting enough sleep at night can sometimes be easier said than done. However, if you are feeling drowsy or are suffering from a lack of sleep, you should avoid driving as much as possible. This is especially important if you are driving alone and do not have someone there to help keep you awake and alert. Much like with drunk driving, you simply don’t have the ability to think clearly or react quickly enough in a situation. If sleepiness is a constant issue for you, you may need to see a doctor to get treatment for your condition or make a major lifestyle change to better the quality of your sleep.