The Hazards of Drowsy Driving
Modern society as a whole is increasingly sleep deprived. Adults are working two jobs to make ends meet. Teenagers go to school, participate in after school activities and then socialize, do home work, watch television, text, face book or play video games late into the night, all at the expense of getting a good night's sleep. Add to this population, persons with actual disorders who may try to get an adequate night's rest but are still excessively sleepy during the day or night. This population of chronically fatigued or excessively sleepy drivers then get behind the wheel of a car setting up the perfect storm for disaster on our roads and highways.
Lack of adequate sleep leads to poor judgement and delayed reflexes. This is exactly what happens when driving when intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the sleepy driver is also driving while impaired. In fact, in 2003, New Jersey passed “Maggie’s Law” which makes killing an individual in a motor vehicle accident while sleep-deprived a vehicular homicide, just as is the case when driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Other states, have adopted similar legislation.
Driving while impaired, whether from drugs, alcohol or drowsiness, leads to common mistakes:
- Following too closely behind the vehicle in front of you
- Failing to realize that you are driving too fast
- Drifting into another lane or off the road without knowing it
- Falling asleep behind the wheel and losing control of your vehicle
Drowsy Driving can be cited in the following statistics:
- At least 100,000 motor-vehicle crashes each year
- More than 1,500 deaths per year
- An estimated $12.5 billion in annual loss
- A factor in 14% of crashes
- Occur late at night or early in the morning
- Occur at high speeds
- Are single-vehicle crashes
- Lack avoidance maneuvers
- 37% of people reported driving drowsy
- 10% of drowsy drivers reported driving drowsy in the past month
- 7.5 million drivers had driven drowsy in the past month
What can be done to prevent drowsy driving?
- First and foremost is to allow yourself adequate time for sleep
- If adequate time for sleep still leaves you excessively fatigued or sleepy during wake times, you might have a sleep disorder – see a Board Certified Specialist at an Accredited Sleep Disorders Center
- Let someone else drive when you are drowsy
- Avoid driving late at night, when most drowsy driving accidents occur
- Have a driving “buddy” for long trips
- Have a cup of coffee or other caffeinated product for a “brief energy boost”
- Avoid medications that can induce sleepiness before taking to the road
- Pull off the road in a safe location (rest stop or parking lot) and take a 20 minute nap when you feel drowsy. Turning up the radio, singing loudly or opening the windows are ineffective at keeping you more alert.
If you or a loved one has driven drowsy in the past or does so on a regular basis, you owe it to yourself to investigate why. Take the Epworth Sleepiness Scale to see if you are excessively sleepy.