Many people in this country sacrifice sleep. This a dangerous behavior that results in nearly 83.6 million sleep-deprived drivers behind the wheel each day. The risk, danger, and often tragic results of drowsy driving are distressing. Drowsy driving is the dangerous combination of driving and sleepiness or fatigue. This usually happens when a driver has not slept enough. However, it can also occur due to untreated sleep disorders, medications, alcohol, or shift work.
Although most people know how dangerous drunk driving is, they often don’t realize that driving sleepy can be just as risky. Missing one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep a night nearly doubles the risk of an accident. Just like drugs and alcohol, fatigue slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment, and increases your risk of a crash.
Several sources, including AAA, the National Sleep Foundation, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have recognized the seriousness of driving while drowsy. A study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that half of Americans report driving while drowsy on a consistent basis. And one in 10 U.S. highway crashes is the result of drowsy driving — as much as eight times more than what previous estimates have found.
A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found there’s an average of 328,000 drowsy-driving crashes every year in the U.S. Over half of those drowsy driving crashes involved individuals between the ages of 18 and 29. This age group is considered especially prone to drowsy driving for multiple reasons. For one, younger drivers simply do not get drowsy in the same way as older individuals. This is due to the high-functioning sleep cycle of teenagers and young adults. They are able to resist becoming drowsy more easily, but they are also at a higher risk of suddenly falling asleep without warning.
Sleep deprivation is another factor. While most adults require seven to eight hours of nightly sleep, teenagers and young adults need at least nine in order to achieve the same levels of functionality.
Drowsy driving has also been noted in particular industries where shift work is common. For example, medical interns with shifts 24 hours or longer are more than twice as likely to be involved in a vehicular accident. Employees who work more than 60 hours per week are 40% more likely to be involved in a drowsy driving incident.
You may be quick to discount the danger of drowsy driving if you don’t fall into one of these high risk driver types, but you could be part of this group without realizing it. About one third of U.S. adults report that they get less than seven hours of sleep each night. More than two thirds of U.S. high school students get less than eight hours of sleep each night, though they need eight to ten. Many drivers, both adults and teens, are driving when they are too tired to do so safely.
Driving long distances without taking rest breaks, driving alone, or traveling frequently for work are all situations that can also cause drowsiness. Avoiding these situations as much as possible can help reduce the risk of drowsy driving.
Warning Signs of Drowsiness and Fatigue
Can’t remember the last few miles driven
Have wandering or disconnected thoughts
Experience difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
Have trouble keeping your head up
Drifting in and out of lanes
Tailgate or miss traffic signs
Tips to Avoid Driving While Tired
Sleep… take a nap for at least 15 to 45 minutes in a safe place
Take frequent breaks at rest areas
Get adequate sleep the night before a long trip
Travel with someone and share the driving
Visit a physician or sleep disorders center if you frequently have difficulty sleeping at night or often suffer from daytime drowsiness
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