Most drivers know when they have had too much to drink and should not get behind the wheel. But there is another dangerous driving habit that many drivers may be less aware of, drowsy driving or driving when they have not had enough sleep.
The National Safety Council states that being drowsy can affect people similar to drugs and alcohol, including delayed reaction time, impaired judgment and decreased awareness. All these issues can lead to motor vehicle accidents.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) cites an Australian study that shows that drivers who have been awake for 18 hours have an impairment level equal to that of drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05, and drivers who have been awake for approximately 24 hours have impairment similar to drivers with a BAC of .10.
Characteristics of Drowsy Driving Accidents
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving accidents typically:
- Involve a driver with no passengers
- Occur on high-speed roads
- Are one-car accidents
- Are serious
Occur in the afternoon or early morning hours
Drowsy Driving Statistics
According to a 2005 NSF survey, 60 percent of drivers had driven while sleepy or drowsy in the prior year. Amazingly, 37 percent of those surveyed reported actually falling asleep while driving at some point in their lives, with 13 percent stating that they had done so in the past month.
Four percent of drivers, according to the NSF, have been involved in an accident or near accident because of either being drowsy or actually falling asleep while driving.
The NHTSA estimates that drowsy driving results in 100,000 reported car accidents every year. This translates into over 1,500 fatalities and approximately 71,000 injuries. However, because it is difficult to actually determine when drowsy driving plays a role in an accident, the NSF believes these numbers are conservative and that drowsy driving could play a role in many more car accidents and related injuries.
Most at Risk
While every single driver is at risk of getting behind the wheel while tired, drowsy driving is more prevalent in some groups of drivers than others.
According to statistics from the NSF, men are more likely to drive drowsy than women. Further, young adults (ages 18 to 29) are more likely to drive drowsy as compared to other age groups. The NSF also reports that non-first shift workers and parents are two groups that are also more likely to drive drowsy.
It is somewhat obvious, but the amount of sleep that drivers get at night also plays a role in drowsy driving. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that drivers are twice as likely to be involved in a car accident if they receive six to seven hours of sleep as compared to eight or more hours of sleep. And, there is a four to five times greater likelihood of being involved in an accident if drivers receive less than five hours of sleep.
Avoiding Drowsy Driving
The NHTSA reports that staying safe on the roads (in the context of drowsy driving) starts with by paying attention to our own levels of drowsiness and understanding when we should stop and rest before starting or continuing to drive.
When certain signs of drowsy driving appear, drivers should stop the vehicle and rest. According to the NSF and the National Safety Council, signs of drowsy driving include:
- Closing eyes or heavy eyelids
- Yawning repeatedly
- Difficulty concentrating or daydreaming
- Difficulty remembering the last few miles driven
- Drifting in the lane, tailgating or hitting rumble strips
To avoid drowsy driving, drivers should:
- Stop and take a break every few hours or every 100 miles
- Try to avoid driving in the overnight hours when sleep would normally occur
- Drive in shifts with a passenger
- Get an full night's rest prior to a long day of driving
- When drowsiness occurs, stop and rest
- Maintain a cooler temperature in the vehicle
Although frequently drowsy driving results in single car accidents, drowsy drivers can also crash into other motorists. If you or a loved one is injured in an accident involving a drowsy driver, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney can help you seek compensation for medical bills, long-term care, and pain and suffering.