The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 100,000 crashes reported to police result from driver fatigue each year. Drowsy driving crashes result in approximately 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses each year. A new analysis published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report examined survey data from nearly 150,000 drivers in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The analysis found that 4.2 percent of drivers admitted having fallen asleep while driving in the last 30 days. One problem with drowsy driving is that everyone defines it differently. However, most experts agree that a driver is drowsy when his or her alertness is appreciably lower than it would be if the driver were well rested and fully awake.
Driving while drowsy can be very dangerous. A driver that falls asleep may crash into another vehicle or other object at full speed, with no attempt to avoid the crash by steering or braking. At times, drowsy drivers might even appear to be drunk, because their driving is so poor. Some studies have found people’s cognitive abilities to be as impaired after twenty-four without sleep as with a blood alcohol content of .10, which is higher than the legal limit for driving while intoxicated in every U.S. state. Nearly 90 percent of police officers surveyed reported pulling over a driver that they originally thought was drunk and turned out to be sober but drowsy.
Some warning signs you may experience that signify drowsiness while driving include:
· The inability to recall the last few miles traveled
· Having disconnected or wandering thoughts
· Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
· Feeling as though your head is very heavy
· Drifting out of your driving lane, perhaps driving on the rumble strips
· Yawning repeatedly
· Accidentally tailgating other vehicles
· Missing traffic signs
Certain groups, due to their lifestyle, are at a much greater risk of driving while drowsy. Younger people are most commonly involved in sleep-related crashes, because they tend to stay up late, sleep too little, and drive at night. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that young drivers are more than four times more likely to have sleep-related crashes than drivers over the age of 30. Shift workers, and other people who work long hours, are at a high risk of being involved in sleep-related crashes. Shift-workers, in particular, are often driving at night when their bodies are used to sleeping. In addition, the human body never fully adjusts to shift work, because the body’s sleep and wake cycles are dictated by light and dark cycles. Finally, people with sleep disorders, especially those that are unaware of the disorder, are at risk for sleep-related accidents. Approximately 40 million people are believed to suffer from some kind of sleep disorder. Many sleep disorders cause excessive daytime sleepiness, which raises the risk of a sleep-related crash.
Drivers can take steps to avoid drowsy driving. It is important to get a good night’s sleep, plan to take long trips with a companion, take regular breaks, avoid alcohol and medications, and consult with a doctor if experiencing frequent daytime sleepiness.