Drowsy driving is estimated to be responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths each year — and experts believe this may be underestimated, with up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year caused by drowsy drivers.
In California, there were 6,930 collisions involving sleepy or fatigued drivers in 2016. Those collisions resulted in 47 deaths, and both figures have continued to increase year over year, so drowsy driving is a growing problem.
Drowsy driving is so deadly because it mimics many of the same impairments as drunk driving — which we all know is incredibly dangerous and deadly. When drivers are too sleepy to drive safely, they are less able to pay attention to the road, have a slower reaction time, and have an impaired ability to make good decisions.
In fact, going without sleep for 20 to 21 hours and then driving results in impairment comparable to a blood level alcohol of .08 percent, the legal limit in most states. Push it to 24 hours, and most people will reach the equivalent of .1 percent, higher than the legal limit in all states.
Drowsy driving happens frequently, with an estimated one in 25 adult drivers reporting they’ve fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days. Drivers who are most likely to drive drowsy include commercial drivers, shift workers, drivers with untreated sleep disorders, drivers who use medications that make them sleepy, and drivers who don’t get enough sleep.
The warning signs of drowsy driving include yawning or blinking frequently, missing exits, hitting a rumble strip, drifting from a lane, or trouble remembering the last few miles driven.
Drivers who experience drowsy driving warning signs should pull over to change drivers or take a 15 to 20 minute nap. Drinking coffee or taking a walk can help with temporary alertness, however, opening the window or turning up the radio is not effective.
It’s a good idea to drive with extra alertness at night, as well, as drowsy drivers may be on the road. Most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m. Drowsy drivers who fall asleep behind the wheel are likely to veer into adjacent lanes, or completely leave the roadway — taking out anything in their path.
Although alertness and knowing when to pull over when sleepy can help mitigate the danger of drowsy driving, the best solution is to simply get an adequate amount of sleep each night.
You should aim to sleep at least seven hours each night. Develop good sleep habits, maintaining a regular sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Maintain a healthy sleep environment and keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
Avoid drinking alcohol before driving, and don’t take medications that make you sleepy before you drive. Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you have a sleep disorder, or have symptoms of a sleep disorder.
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