Do you know how dangerous it can be to drive while you’re drowsy? You might not think it’s a big deal, but according to a 2019 report from the National Safety Council, driver fatigue is responsible for about 100,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths each year. There is even a Drowsy Driving Prevention Week to educate the public about the dangers of driving while drowsy.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when many Americans are constantly on the go and working long hours; sleep deprivation is a real problem for personal health and the safety of millions of drivers on the road. While falling asleep at the wheel is not a foreign concept to most people, it’s important to know that it can be deadly.
How Common Is Drowsy Driving?
Determining a precise number of drowsy driving accidents, injuries, and fatal crashes isn’t possible, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA). Investigators can look for indications that drowsiness contributed to an accident, but these clues aren’t always conclusive. Consequently, drowsy driving statistics vary from study to study.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 35% of Americans get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep, and 12% sleep for 5 hours or less. A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that more than 40% of drivers admitted they had fallen asleep behind the wheel.
Drowsy driving disproportionately affects younger drivers between the ages of 16 and 25. They make up an estimated 50% or more of drowsy driving crashes. The NHTSA estimates that every year about 100,000 police-reported, drowsy-driving crashes result in nearly 800 fatalities and about 50,000 injuries. However, there is a broad agreement across the traffic safety, sleep science, and public health communities that these numbers underestimate the impact of drowsy driving.
The Dangers of Drowsy Driving
In a report from the National Sleep Foundation, an estimated 6,400 people die annually in motor vehicle crashes involving drowsy driving. Additionally, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually. That’s more than three times the police-reported number reported by the NHTSA.
What Causes Drowsy Driving?
There are several things that can cause drowsy driving. For one, not getting enough sleep can make staying awake behind the wheel hard. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, adults should get seven or more hours of sleep each night. When you’re running off little sleep, your body isn’t able to function at its best. You might have trouble paying attention to the road and making good decisions.
Other factors that can lead to drowsy driving include:
- Untreated sleep disorders
- Drinking alcohol
- Sleep deprivation
Even the time of day you drive impacts your ability to drive. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most crashes caused by drowsy driving occur between midnight and 6 AM.
Signs You Should Stop Driving To Rest
If you find yourself yawning frequently or having trouble keeping your eyes open, those are signs that you need to take a break from driving.
It’s also important to be aware of the warning signs of microsleep, which include:
- Head nodding or drooping
- Eyelids drooping
- Eyes closing for longer than a blink
- Inability to keep your head up
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or missing exits or turns
- Daydreaming or staring into space.
The Importance of Healthy Sleep Habits
The best way to avoid being a drowsy driver is to practice healthy sleep habits and get a good night’s rest before hitting the road. There are a number of things you can do to help ensure you get enough sleep and reduce your risk of drowsy driving, including:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Get at least seven hours of sleep per night.
- Avoid drinking alcohol before bed.
- Don’t use electronic devices in bed.
- Exercise regularly.
- Manage stress.
Remember, a drowsy driver can be just as dangerous as a drunk driver. Drowsy driving and drunk driving slow reaction times and affect alertness and decision-making. Just as with drunk drivers, drowsy drivers are more likely to get into accidents because they have trouble staying alert and focused on the road. They might doze off or have trouble keeping their eyes open, leading to serious problems.
Other Ways To Avoid Drowsy Driving
If you know you’ll be driving for an extended period, make sure you’re well-rested. Other ways to avoid drowsy driving include:
- Avoid taking medication that can make you drowsy. If you must take medication, take it early in the day, so it doesn’t affect your driving.
- If you feel drowsy while driving, you can turn up the radio or open the windows.
- Drink some coffee. Caffeine takes around 30 minutes to reach its peak level of alertness in the body, so drink coffee or another caffeinated beverage before you get behind the wheel if you’re feeling drowsy.
- If you pull over and take a nap, ensure you’re well-rested before returning to the road.
In a Car Wreck Involving a Fatigued Driver? Contact a Washington, D.C. Car Accident Attorney Today
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