The Consequences of Drowsy Driving

Your ability to drive is not only affected alcohol or drugs, but by sleepiness. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue causes at least 100,000 crashes, 1500 deaths, and 71,000 injuries per year. Approximately one-quarter of American adults surveyed report having dozed off at the wheel in the past year. However, only 12% admit that weariness affects their driving. If you add alcohol or drugs to the mix, the effects are compounded exponentially.

Young drivers (aged 25 or younger) are especially at risk. Many of these younger drivers are tired to begin with, due to a variety of stresses and behaviors, and a natural tendency to just not want to go to bed. Fewer than half of all drivers under the age of 30 get an adequate amount of sleep, regularly. Many teens, who are the least experienced drivers, admit to driving drowsy at least once a week.  Other at-risk drivers include people working odd shifts, business travelers and people with sleep disorders.

While nearly everyone knows by now how dangerous driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is many do not know, or admit, that sleepiness affects the same skills in much the same ways. The cost of even one to two hours of nightly sleep loss can cause a decrease in driving performance that may lead to disastrous errors and events resulting in avoidable accidents.

According to a study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine, the effects of mild sleep deprivation and alcohol use affected driving ability and reaction time similarly.

Signs of fatigue include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or maintaining attention to the road
  • Physical indications (i.e. yawning, increased rubbing and blinking of the eyes)
  • Impaired judgment and reaction time
  • Decreased driving skills (drifting out of your lane, hitting rumble strips, tailgating)

Accidents due to tiredness are easy to avoid. Don\’t drive if you know you are tired, or are taking medication that causes drowsiness. Avoid driving if you would normally be sleeping. Don\’t expect the radio, open window, or other stand-ins to keep you awake. No trip is worth your life, or that of another human being.

The best thing to do to avoid driving while tired is, first and foremost, get adequate sleep before taking a long trip. If this is not feasible, pull off the road when you notice you\’re getting tired and take a cat nap. Drink some coffee (these can be combined to save time.  While waiting for the caffeine to kick in, nap). Bring a friend (as a passenger to watch for signs of fatigue or to share the driving when you get tired). And don\’t forget basic driving safety—always wear your seat belt!

For more information, check out the National Sleep Foundation\’s website (http://sleepfoundation.org) and DrowsyDriving.org (http://drowsydriving.org)

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