Do Not Drive Drowsy

Don’t drive drowsy. Just don’t do it. About 20% of motor vehicle accidents are thought to be due to drowsy driving. If you drive drowsy, you are putting yourself and others at risk of injury and potentially death.

Drowsiness impairs driving in a similar manner as alcohol and can be just as fatal. Just like alcohol, drowsiness impairs alertness, reaction time, decision making, and accuracy of responses. A study showed people driving after being awake for 24 hours performed similar to those with a blood alcohol content of 0.10%, which is over the legal limit in the US at 0.08%.

Drowsy driving is a common, serious issue. According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS), more than one-third of drivers report they have fallen asleep behind the wheel. This fact is just crazy and frightening to me on how common this issue truly is. When drowsiness is involved, the accidents tend to be more severe. Of the accidents that involve a drowsy driver, over 20% of those accidents involve a fatality.

Both acute and chronic sleep deprivation can increase the chance of having an accident. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that the average adult obtain at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Seven hours is the minimum amount of sleep recommended for adults and some people need much more than 7 hours to be rested. The AAAFTS reported that getting less than 7 hours of sleep or less than just 1 hour of sleep than what you normally obtain increases your risk of a crash. Additionally, the less sleep you get the higher your chances are of a crash. For example, AAAFTS also reported that someone who sleeps 5-6 hours in the past 24 hours has almost 2 times the chance of an accident compared to those who got 7 hours within the past day and 11.5 times for those who got < 4 hours of sleep.

Symptoms of drowsy driving include (but are not limited to):

  • Frequent yawning
  • Difficulties keeping your eyes open, heavy eyelids, or frequent blinking
  • Loss of focus
  • Inability to recall the last few seconds or minutes of driving
  • Nodding off
  • Daydreaming
  • Missing road signs or turns
  • Difficulty maintaining a speed
  • Driving too close to the vehicle in front of you
  • Drifting out of your lane
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the shoulder of the road

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine believes every driver should be responsible and only drive while awake and alert. A couple of states have passed laws at the time of this post making it a class B felony to negligently cause the death of another person as a result of operating a vehicle, aircraft, or watercraft while fatigued.

To minimize drowsy driving:

  • Get adequate sleep! Again, the average adults needs at least 7 hours of sleep and some people need 8, 9, or even 10+ hours of sleep every night to be adequately rested.
  • If you think you have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, or you think your sleepiness is due to something besides insufficient sleep, talk with your doctor for further evaluation.
  • Avoid alcohol and other sedating medications and substances. If you are starting a medication with drowsiness as a potential side effect, consider taking it on a day or night when you don’t have to work (or drive the following day) so you can see how your body reacts to that medication.
  • Plan for breaks at least every 2 hours or 100 miles while driving.

If you feel drowsy while driving you need to pull over someplace safe and don’t resume driving until you no longer feel drowsy. Things like turning up the radio, rolling down the window, talking on the phone, and increasing the air conditioning flow are ineffective at helping you stay awake while driving and some of these tasks may just create more distractions. The best thing to do is to find someone else who is not drowsy or impaired to drive for you. If you are alone, pull over someplace safe to take a nap or consider a hotel if you need a longer duration of sleep. Before you drive again ensure that you are awake and alert.  Most people find shorter naps of 15-20 minutes to be the most restful because longer naps tend make you feel more groggy because you get into the deeper stages of sleep.

Remember to never drive or engage in activities requiring a high level of attention when drowsy.

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