Drunk driving. Distracted driving. Teen driving. We’ve heard for years about how certain activities and demographics are associated with an increased risk of car accidents, injuries, and deaths. If you’ve watched the news or read the newspaper, you’ve surely heard of these things.
But what about drowsy driving?
It’s very possible you haven’t heard much about this—if anything at all. It’s not a new phenomenon—people have been driving while tired for as long as cars have existed—but it’s one that’s only recently gotten attention from public health officials. That’s because we’re just now understanding the effect of tiredness on driving ability, and to be brief, it’s not good.
Today, we’re talking about drowsy driving: what it is, how fatigue affects driving ability, the impact of drowsy driving, and what you can do to stay safe on the road.
What Is Drowsy Driving?
Drowsy driving is, as you probably guessed already, driving while sleepy or fatigued. The sleepiness or fatigue can be caused by not getting enough sleep, of course, but it can also be caused by other things: untreated sleep disorders, medications, drinking alcohol, or working a late shift.
How Tiredness Affects Your Driving
It’s obvious that falling asleep at the wheel is incredibly dangerous: you don’t need to be told that. But what you may not know is that even slight fatigue can negatively impact your driving ability. In fact, drowsiness has a similar effect on the body as drinking alcohol! Driving after 20 hours with no sleep is equivalent to driving with a .08 BAC (blood alcohol content).
Drowsiness makes drivers less able to:
- Pay attention to the road
- React quickly (including braking or steering)
- Make good decisions
This means tired drivers may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Yawning and blinking frequently
- Drifting out of their lane or hitting the rumble strip
- Difficulty maintaining the same speed
- Inability to remember driving the last couple of miles
- Missing road signs or turns
Tired drivers are also at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. A driver may fall asleep completely or experience short bursts of “micro-sleep.” A micro-sleep lasts just a few seconds (4-5, usually); however, when traveling at 55mph, a car can travel 100 yards in that time!
The Impact of Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving is hard to study because it’s not always clear when tiredness was the cause of a car accident. (However, police officers can usually make an educated guess if, for example, a car left the road and hit an obstruction without braking. This is common among drivers who fall asleep.)
That said, we do know that tired driving is wide-spread from the following statistics:
- The CDC reports that about 1 in 25 drivers aged 18 and older report falling asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days
- A study done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that drowsy driving causes 328,000 crashes annually—resulting in 109,000 injuries and 6,400 deaths.
Why is drowsy driving so common? And who is most likely to drive tired?
Drowsy driving seems to be extremely common for a few reasons:
- Most people live busy lives and generally don’t get enough sleep, which leads them to drive tired often.
- “Drowsy driving” isn’t seen as a bad thing by the general public. Unlike driving while intoxicated or driving distracted, most people don’t know the dangers of drowsy driving.
There are a few demographics who are more likely to drive drowsy:
- Many jobs require long or night drives, including shift work and commercial truck driving. People who work night shifts or rotating shifts and commercial truck drivers are at a higher risk for fall-asleep crashes.
- Young people often stay up later and drive at night. This, combined with their relative inexperience, makes them more likely to drive drowsy and get into a car accident.
- People who have untreated sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or insomnia, are more at risk for a drowsy driving car accident.
How to Stay Safe on the Road
Drowsy driving is a big problem, but there are a few things you can do to stay safe and avoid a car accident.
First and foremost, make sure that you are not driving tired. Of course we all want to get where we’re going, but it’s better to get there in one piece! Here are some tips we recommend:
- If you’re having trouble focusing, yawning, daydreaming, or nodding off while driving, pull over (if you can do so safely) to take a 20-minute nap, or drink a caffeinated beverage. (However, you shouldn’t rely on caffeine to stay awake for more than a few hours.)
- Avoid driving if you are on a medication that causes drowsiness. (This is the prescription label that often says you shouldn’t “operate heavy machinery” – a car counts as heavy machinery).
- Avoid driving during times that you would normally be sleeping.
- Don’t rely on tricks (like turning up the radio or rolling down the window) to stay awake.
- When possible, drive with a friend so you can take turns driving.
Car Accident? Call Us!
Unfortunately, you can be the most awake, alert driver on the road and still experience a car accident. There are lots of tired drivers out there, and the bad news is that drowsy drivers can cause some of the worst accidents—hitting other cars without braking at all.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by another (possibly drowsy) driver, we’re here to help. The personal injury attorneys at Casper & Casper have the experience, knowledge, and compassion needed to handle your case.
Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at our Cincinnati, Dayton, Hamilton, or Middletown location.