We all know that driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol is dangerous, but many of us don’t think twice about driving while we’re drowsy. Many Americans get less than eight hours of sleep per night, and some get significantly less. And yet, when we wake up in the morning, we get behind the wheels of our cars without considering how that lack of sleep can impact our safety.
Even missing a few hours of sleep can put you at greater risk for an accident when driving and injuring others– drowsy driving can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than driving while drunk.
How Drowsy Driving Connects to Accidents
Whenever we don’t get enough sleep or start to feel tired, our functioning starts to decrease on many critical levels. Our observation level, reaction time, and ability to stay focused all drop – essential skills for driving safely on the road. According to a study from AAA:
- Drowsy driving plays a role in roughly 20 percent of fatal crashes.
- Drivers missing one or two hours of sleep double the risk of crashing.
- Missing three to four hours quadruples the crash risk.
- Sleeping for less than four hours in a 24-hour period makes drivers 11.5 times more likely to crash.
The crash rate for drivers who only get four to five hours a night is roughly the same as driving with a blood alcohol concentration at or slightly above the legal limit. Sleeping under four hours is even riskier than that, with its higher levels of crash rates. What’s worse, drowsy driving is an underreported statistic, with many drivers not recognizing when they’re drowsy or being unwilling to admit that they fell asleep behind the wheel before their accidents.
When combined with alcohol, a lack of sleep can become even more dangerous. Someone who’s only had four hours of sleep can experience a similar effect from one beer as a well-rested individual who has drunk six beers. If someone who is under the influence also hasn’t gotten enough sleep, then the chances of getting in a car accident are even higher.
Recognizing Signs of Drowsiness
It’s rather easy for people to understand when they’re drunk and they shouldn’t get behind the wheel – and if there’s ever any doubt, then a blood alcohol content test can resolve the matter. However, many people don’t even recognize that they’re sleep deprived – or when they’re too drowsy to safely get behind the wheel. Some signs that indicate drowsiness when driving are:
- Frequent yawning
- Being unable to keep your eyes open
- Drifting onto the shoulder of the road or into the opposite lane
- Starting to nod off
- Keeping too short a following distance from the car ahead of you
- Driving past a turn you need to make
If you start to experience these symptoms, then it’s time to take a break from driving. While you may be in a situation where you’re on a tight schedule, it’s better to be late than to end up in a dangerous accident along the way and sustain serious injuries.
Counteracting the Risks of Drowsiness While Driving
While the best way to prevent drowsiness behind the wheel is to get plenty of sleep and not to drive when you haven’t had enough sleep, sometimes drowsiness can crop up during a long drive for work or travel. If you’re taking a long trip that involves a lot of time behind the wheel, you should:
- Take a break every 2 hours or every 100 miles
- Travel with a passenger to share driving time and help keep you awake
- Avoid taking medications that cause drowsiness
If you can’t counter drowsiness any longer, it’s always better to pull off the road and take a nap. The alternative is continuing to drive while sleep deprived – and risking the life-changing accidents that might come from it.