The dangerous route of drowsy driving
Often times we find our schedules packed, our days long, and our nights longer. By the time we manage to crawl into bed, we focus on falling asleep, and not much else (except maybe checking Instagram).
Can you remember the last time you went to bed early and woke up feeling ready to take on the day?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a third of adults living in the United States report they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep.
While missing an hour or two of sleep a night may not appear to make a significant impact on your life, it does. Sleep deprivation can cause a myriad of health problems, such as the development of chronic diseases and conditions, and can interfere with work, school, and social functioning.
It can also cause drowsy driving and double your chance of getting in a car accident.
In fact, The National Sleep Foundation found being awake for 18 hours is as dangerous having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% (the classification of being legally intoxicated),and puts you at equal risk for a car crash.
What is Drowsy Driving?
According to accident attorneys at the Manchin Injury Law Group drowsy driving can cause car accidents, although due to its difficulty in measurability, it is severely underreported and has been hard to estimate; until now.
According to the CDC, drowsy driving is the dangerous combination of driving and sleepiness/fatigue, which usually happens when a driver has not slept enough or can occur due to an untreated sleep disorder, medications, alcohol consumption, or shift work. While it is not considered distracted driving, it can sometime be equally as dangerous.
A New Study has Dangerous Findings
An in-depth study recently published by The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found drowsy driving to be a much bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates initially indicated.
In this study, 3,593 drivers from six study sites in the United States were monitored through the use of in-vehicle videos over the span of several months. By using video technology, researchers examined drivers’ faces three minutes leading up to a crash, analyzing the percentage of time a person’s eyes were closed to measure their level of drowsiness (PERCLOS measure).
The findings concluded 8.8-9.5% of all automotive accidents involve drowsy drivers, nearly five times higher than federal estimates.
What Does This Mean for You?
While drowsy driving is dangerous, it is also preventable. You can help keep yourself, loved ones, and other people on the road safe by choosing not to drive drowsy and taking the time to learn the signs and preventative measures.
Who is Most At-Risk for Drowsy Driving?
Studies show any driver who has not gotten adequate sleep is at risk, but the groups below are at an increased risk for causing or contributing to a fall-asleep crash:
- Young males (males under the age of 25)
- Shift workers
- People who work more than 60 hours a week
- Commercial drivers
- People with undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders
- Business travelers
10 Warning Signs You Should Not Be Driving
Drowsy driving is identifiable by key warning signs, including:
- Yawning frequently
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Difficulty focusing
- Blinking frequently or rubbing your eyes
- Tailgating or driving too close to other cars on the road
- Missing an exit
- Difficulty remembering the past couple miles
- Drifting in between lanes
- Hitting a rumble strip
What to Do if You Feel Drowsy on the Road
If you experience any of the warning signs, it’s time to take action before it’s too late.
If you are driving alone, the best thing to do is to pull over to a safe area (preferably a rest stop) and take a quick 20-30 minute nap. Multiple studies have proven the effectiveness of ingesting caffeine before a nap, appropriately deemed the “coffee nap”.
If you are driving with someone, switch drivers! Make sure to take adequate breaks, ideally every 2 hours or 100 miles, and keep each other alert.
Prevent Drowsy Driving
The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to get enough sleep! While there are short term aids to combat drowsiness, the only cure is a full night of rest. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends 7 to 8 hours of sleep for drivers over the age of 18, and 8 to 10 hours of sleep for teens.
You can also do the following to help prevent drowsy driving and mitigate the risk of a car accident:
- Evaluate your quality of sleep and hours slept prior to hitting the road. If you aren’t confident, don’t risk it
- Avoid ingesting alcohol before driving
- Wait to take medications that make you sleepy (cold tablets, antihistamines, antidepressants) until you have safely arrived at your destination
- Refrain from eating heavy foods
- Make a sleep schedule and stick to it
- If you are going on a road trip or driving for a long period of time, plan your trip to allocate time for rest stops
- Schedule your driving time around your body’s natural sleep cycle
- Bring a buddy or carpool! A driving friend can help detect early signs of fatigue and can ease the burden of a long drive by switching roles when needed