The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that as many as 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be attributed to drowsy drivers. The National Sleep Foundation found about half of adult drivers in the United States admit to consistently getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy. In addition, more than 40 percent of survey respondents say they have fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once.
The impact of drowsiness on driving is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated, distracted or under the influence of both legal and illegal drugs.
- Reaction times are greatly reduced and worsen the drowsier the driver becomes.
- Awareness of hazards and the ability to sustain attention are diminished.
- Driving after being awake more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent.
- The National Safety Council warns that fatigued drivers are three more times more likely to be in a car crash than drivers who are not fatigued.
- Insufficient sleep is tied to poor decision-making, which can lead to risk-taking behind the wheel.
Some drivers may not recognize they are driving while drowsy. Drivers with certain sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, may not recognize that their interrupted, less restorative sleep can adversely affect their safety behind the wheel. Addressing sleep disorders can help drivers be safer.
Other people may be sleep deprived from working shift hours or taking care of young children. Asking for help to catch up on sleep can alleviate drowsiness when behind the wheel.
Individuals can take additional steps to make them less susceptible to drowsy driving.
- Avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the mid-afternoon when sleepiness peaks, according to the Sleep Foundation.
- Ask to change medications if they cause drowsiness. Check to see if supplements list drowsiness as reactions and avoid those that do.
- Take breaks when driving long distances. Travel with a driving partner who can share the responsibility of driving.
Drowsy driving is a problem that can be prevented. But drivers must first recognize the threat that drowsy driving can pose.