We are all guilty of driving while tired. In fact, sixty percent of adults in the United States have driven while feeling drowsy and one-third of people have actually fallen asleep while behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2013.
Driving while drowsy can actually be similar to driving while intoxicated. This is because sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. According to the National Sleep Foundation, being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (a blood alcohol level of .08 is considered drunk). Drowsy and drunk driving make it hard to pay attention to the road and can negatively impact how well you make fast decisions.
However, drowsy driving and drunk driving do not always look the same on the road. A drunk driver often drives slower and tries to react, but a drowsy driver can nod off while still going fast. In this case drowsy drivers don’t always brake or swerve if something happens in front of them.
Believe it or not there are certain people who are more prone to driving drowsy. So who is more likely to drive drowsy?
•Drivers who do not get enough sleep.
• Commercial drivers who operate vehicles such as tow trucks, tractor trailers and buses.
• People who work the night shift or work long shifts.
• Drivers with untreated sleep disorders such as Sleep Apnea.
• Drivers who use medication that causes drowsiness.
• Young Adult Males.
There are warning signs that someone is drowsy driving. If you are driving or if you are a passenger with someone who you may think is drowsy check for these warning signs…
• Difficulty focusing.
• Yawning or blinking frequently.
• Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven.
• Missing exits or traffic signs.
• Trouble keeping head upright.
• Drifting from the lane or tailgating.
• Hitting rumble strips on the side of the road.
However, there are certain things you can do to prevent drowsy driving before you get behind the wheel. You should get enough sleep. Many adults need 7 hours of sleep a day while teens need 8 hours of sleep. Develop good sleeping habits such as sticking to a sleep schedule. If you have a sleep disorder or believe you may have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor for treatment options. You can also avoid drinking alcohol and taking medications that make you drowsy. Make sure you check the labels on your medications to be sure.
But what if you are already driving and begin to feel sleepy? If possible, safely pull over and try to take a 20-minute nap. You can buy a cup of caffeinated coffee to help keep you alert. If you aren’t alone, switch drivers. If you drive during your most alert period of the day such as the morning instead of late at night you are less likely to be tired. Taking these steps can lower your risk of driving drowsy and will lower your stress level during a road trip.
Next time you get behind the wheel be sure you are well rested and have taken all precautionary measures to ensure a safe driving experience not only for you and your passengers but for those who are also traveling around you.
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“CDC Features.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2017, www.cdc.gov/features/dsdrowsydriving/index.html.
“Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving: How Similar Are They?” National Sleep Foundation, sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/drowsy-driving-vs-drunk-driving-how-similar-are-they.
“Drowsy Driving.” National Sleep Foundation, sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/drowsy-driving.