The Dangers Of Drowsy Driving
Droopy eyelids? Head nodding off? Blurry vision? Does this sound familiar? If so, then you have experienced drowsy driving.
If you’re not careful, you may find yourself veering off the road or into oncoming traffic. Drowsy driving is dangerous and all too common. If you’ve ever experienced these symptoms before, then you're one of the 60% of Americans who have driven while feeling sleepy, according to a poll by National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America. Even more alarming is that 37% of Americans admit to having fallen asleep in the past year while behind the wheel.
Driving while sleepy may seem harmless, but drowsy driving is very dangerous and can put you as the driver and other people on the road’s lives at risk.
The Problems With Drowsy Driving
Sleep is very powerful. When we’re tired and driving, we may think that rolling down the window or blasting the radio will keep us awake. However, the truth is that sometimes we can’t handle drowsiness and we risk falling asleep at the wheel. This happens to more people than we may think. An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers reported having fallen asleep behind the wheel in the previous 30 days.
Sleepiness contributes to slowed reaction times and lapses in attention, which makes driving while tired even more dangerous. If you’re not functioning at the best of your abilities, you cannot make the split decisions sometimes needed while driving. Your reaction time may be too slow if you have to brake or steer suddenly. There have been numerous studies showing a correlation between decreased judgment and lack of sleep.
Drowsy driving may obviously be caused by lack of sleep, but it can also be the result of medications, sleep disorders, shift work, or drinking alcohol.
How Similar Is Drowsy Driving To Drunk Driving?
Although drunk driving may receive more attention than drowsy driving, falling asleep behind the wheel is a major problem. Sleep deprivation can produce similar effects on the body as drinking alcohol. For example, being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive as if you have a BAC of 0.5 (the legal limit of intoxication is .08).
If you drive after being awake for a full 24 hours, it’s as if you were drinking beyond that 0.8 level.
While both drunk driving and drowsy driving slow your reaction times and limit your ability to pay attention to the road, they are different. While a drunk driver can drive slowly to try and react, a sleepy driver who nods off can still be going fast without having the chance to react. So, in a way, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous on the road as drunk driving.
In 2017, there were more than 90,000 car accidents involving drowsy driving and led to 795 deaths. From 2013 to 2017, more than 4,000 people died due to drowsy driving. Out of the total $836 billion in costs of traffic crashes, the NHTSA calculated that drowsy driving-related crashes contributed to around 13% of that total. Drowsy driving is a dangerous problem that needs to be taken seriously.
How Do I Know If I Am Drowsy Driving?
Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re too tired to drive. Here are some signs to watch for:
- Frequent blinking, heavy eyelids, or having difficulty focusing
- Finding yourself daydreaming or with disconnected thoughts
- If you have trouble remembering the last few miles driven or are missing exits or traffic signs
- Repeatedly yawning or rubbing your eyes
- If you’re having trouble keeping your head up
- If you find yourself drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
- Displaying feelings of restlessness and irritability
If you are displaying these signs, it's important to pull over or let another person drive.
Tips To Prevent Drowsy Driving
Making sure you’re getting an optimal 7-8 hours of sleep before your drive is ideal to prevent drowsy driving, but there are other ways as well. Here are some methods you can used to combat drowsy driving:
- Taking a short nap before a road trip can help make up for a short night's sleep.
- Pull over to take a short nap of 20 minutes if you find yourself nodding off behind the wheel. Make sure you are in a safe location and remember you'll be groggy for 15 minutes or so after waking up.
- The Buddy system: It's safest to drive with other people on long trips. You and your partner can pull over every two hours and switch drivers.
- Don't rush. It’s better to arrive at your destination safely than on time.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can make you drowsy.
- Try not to drive between midnight and 6 a.m. Because of your body's circadian clock, this is a time when drowsiness is most intense.
- Drink caffeine. Although caffeine improves alertness, its effects will wear off after several hours.
What Are Current Laws With Drowsy Driving?
Currently, only Arkansas and New Jersey have laws that address drowsy driving as a punishable offense.
Meanwhile, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, and Maine have driver's license restrictions for drivers with untreated sleep disorders. Weeks or days dedicated to spreading awareness of drowsy driving have also been adopted in Massachusetts, California, Alabama, Florida, and Texas.
For more information on drowsy driving state laws, check here at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Involved In A Drowsy Driving Accident?
No matter how careful you are when it comes to avoiding falling asleep at the wheel, there are always other drivers who don’t take the proper precautions when it comes to drowsy driving. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident involving drowsy driving, give us a call.