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Chicago Personal Injury Blog

Drowsy Driving: How Sleep Impairment Affects Your Driving

by Jared Staver in Personal Injury

Drowsy Driving and Auto AccidentsAccording to the National Sleep Foundation, about 60 percent of drivers over 18 say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy. This number is staggering, when you realize just how dangerous driving while sleepy can be. While there is no test for driving without a proper amount of sleep, studies indicate that so-called “drowsy driving” impairs people’s ability to drive as much as alcohol or even more.

A person’s impairment after staying awake for 18 hours is comparable to that of someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). After 24 hours awake, impairment is the same as it would be to have a BAC of 0.10 percent, which would be above the legal limit in every state. What is worse, more than one-third of adults admit that they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Even sleeping for just a few seconds while driving could lead to a devastating accident.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that at least 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue every year, resulting in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 serious injuries, and $12.5 billion in damages. In fact, it is predicted that over 2.5 percent of fatal accidents are as a result of drowsy driving. These estimates are furthermore considered to be very conservative. Some estimates put the number of fatal accidents caused by drowsy driving to be around 10-13 percent of all fatal accidents.

Preventing drowsy driving

Since drowsy driving is so dangerous, it is important to prevent its occurrence. The following are the most important things that you can do to prevent drowsy driving.

  • Recognize the warning signs. If you are driving and start to do any of the following, it is important to stop driving and rest.
    • Yawning repeatedly
    • Rubbing your eyes
    • Drifting from your lane
    • Hitting the rumble strip
    • Having difficulty keeping your head up
    • Daydreaming or having wandering thoughts
    • Missing exits or traffic signs
    • Forgetting where you are
    • Blinking frequently and having heavy eyelids
    • Not being able to focus
  • Get enough sleep. Adults need at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. If you are commonly getting fewer hours of sleep, you are putting yourself and others at risk.
  • Take a 15 to 20 minute nap if you are starting to feel drowsy. Although it is not an alternative to getting proper sleep, if you take a brief nap, you are more likely to drive safely.
  • Drink caffeine. The amount of caffeine in two cups of coffee has been shown to significantly improve alertness.
  • If you are at a higher risk for drowsy driving, be sure to take extra precautions when you drive. The following groups of people are more likely to drive while drowsy.
    • Commercial drivers
    • Shift workers (who work the night shift or unusually long shifts)
    • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea
    • Men under the age of thirty
    • Parents of young children
    • Anyone who is on an irregular sleep schedule
  • Seek treatment if you have a sleeping disorder.
  • Don’t take substances that are more likely to make you drowsy when driving. If you are taking sedatives, medications that make you drowsy or alcohol, you should not drive, especially at night. This makes you even more susceptible to drowsy driving (even if you are under the legal threshold for a DUI).

Although it may not always be convenient to take all of these precautions, it is worth it. You will prevent dangerous auto accidents and could save lives. If you ever feel very drowsy before getting in the car, it is better to get someone else to drive you. Even more importantly, make sure to get a proper amount of sleep every night. By making time to get a good night’s sleep, you will not only be a better driver, but you will also be more likely to excel in other parts of your life.

Photo credit: r.nial.bradshaw / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)