More than one-third of American’s polled by the National Sleep Foundation said they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel before. Many people who have fallen asleep had an accident or nearly had one because they had dozed off or were too tired to drive. The National Traffic Safety Administration estimates about 100,000 police-reported crashes each year due to drowsy driving. Those crashes result in about 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
The drivers with the highest risk of sleep related crashes are young people, especially men, adults with children, and shift workers. The most common age group to drive while drowsy is 18-29 year-olds. Men are almost twice as likely to fall asleep while driving than women. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a crash, and drivers with less than 5 hours are 4-5 times more likely to get into an accident.
A study done by researchers in Australia showed that being awake for 18 hours had a similar impairment to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 and if awake for 24 hours then it was equivalent to .10. Commercial drivers and people with undiagnosed sleep disorders, like sleep apnea and acute insomnia, are also at a higher risk for drowsy driving crashes.
To prevent drowsy driving, make sure to always get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. The National Institutes of Health recommends adults get 7-8 hours of sleep a day and adolescents need 9-10 hours. Make sure that if you have a sleep disorder or think you may one, seek treatment from a doctor. Avoid taking any sedating medications before driving.
Some of the warning signs of drowsy driving include:
- Yawning or blinking frequently
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
- Missing your exit or turn
- Drifting from your lane
- Hitting a rumble strip
If you are ever experiencing any of these warning signs, pull over to take a rest or change drivers. Turning up the radio or opening windows are not effective ways to keep you alert. Stay alert, stay alive.