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The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

drowsy driver yawning with hand to mouth

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately 21% of fatal automobile crashes are due to drowsy driving, also known as fatigued driving. In addition, the CDC reports that about 1 in 25 adult drivers aged 18 and over admit to falling asleep at the wheel in the previous month. To bring the point home, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2013, there were an estimated 72,000 crashes due to fatigued driving, with 44,00 injuries and 800 deaths.

Remember that these numbers are only estimates and it’s likely that the actual numbers are higher due to unreported drowsiness by drivers. Furthermore, there’s no test for driving while drowsy, making statistics based solely on driver reports.

Causes of Fatigued Driving

There are several causes of drowsy driving, with sleep deprivation being the number one cause. Sleep deprivation is mainly due to shift work – a work schedule that occurs outside the typical nine-to-five workday. An estimated 45% of America’s workforce is comprised of shift workers.

Sleep deprivation can also be caused by untreated sleep disorders, with 70 million adults suffering from sleep disorders and 30% of these individuals having sleep apnea. Other causes of drowsy driving include:

  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Using medications before driving
  • Driving for long stretches without rest

Who Is Most Likely to Drive While Drowsy?

While all drivers are susceptible to drowsy driving, some encounter it more often than others.

Drivers Who Don’t Get a Sufficient Amount of Sleep

This may appear obvious, but someone who is sleep deprived has become accustomed to getting through their days that way and may not be as apt to refrain from driving when they’re drowsy as someone who is not used to it.

Commercial Drivers Operating Tractor Trailers, Buses and Tow Trucks

These drivers tend to be on the road for extended periods of time without rest.

Shift Workers

Even when someone is accustomed to shift work, it can still affect their circadian rhythm.

Effects of Drowsy Driving on Drivers

Driving while drowsy has similar effects on drivers as does driving while intoxicated, including:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Decreased awareness of hazards
  • Decreased focus

In addition, going for more than 20 hours without sleeping is like driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08, which is the legal limit.

How to Prevent Fatigued Driving

The number one way to prevent drowsy driving is to get quality sleep on a consistent basis – and don’t get by the wheel if you got too little sleep the night before. This is easier said than done, but the statistics prove the case.

Here are some suggestions for healthy sleep habits:

  • Stick to a bedtime that allows you to get at least 7 hours of sleep
  • Avoid devices that emit blue light close to bedtime
  • Cut off caffeine by 2 pm
  • Soak in a warm bath or meditate before bed

Do your best not to be a statistic. Dim the lights, curl up with a book, or engage in some stretches or relaxation techniques before bed to give you a good night of shut-eye.

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