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Important Drowsy Driving Stats and How You Can Stay Awake at the Wheel

Guest Blog Post by Ben DiMaggio

Drowsy driving is a dangerous national epidemic. An estimated one in 25 adult drivers report having fallen asleep while driving within the previous 30 days. Falling asleep at the wheel driving when you’re too sleepy to feel alert can cause serious accidents.

It’s estimated that drowsy driving is responsible for 72,000 crashes annually. Of those, 44,000 include injuries, and 800 include deaths. But these numbers may be seriously underestimated, and experts believe drowsy driving may be responsible for more than 6,000 fatal crashes each year.

California drivers are no exception to the dangers of drowsy driving. There were 6,930 drowsy driving collisions in 2016, a figure that’s significantly higher than the 4,693 drowsy driving collisions in 2014. The number of drowsy driving accidents continues to increase each year. Drowsy driving deaths have increased year on year as well, reaching 47 driving fatalities due to tiredness in 2016.

Drowsy Driving is as Dangerous as Drunk Driving

Drivers who would never dream of getting behind the wheel after a few drinks might not think twice about driving while sleepy. But if you go too long without sleep, you can be just as impaired as a drunk driver.

Both drunk drivers and drowsy drivers experience impairments. Your alertness and reaction times are slower than normal. You may experience difficulty focusing on the road whether you’re drunk, tired, or both. Drowsy drivers can be even more dangerous, as a drunk driver may be able to drive slowly and react, while a drowsy driver can fall asleep at the wheel while still driving fast.

When you’ve been awake for at least 18 hours, you’re impaired on the same level as a driver who has a blood alcohol concentration of .05 percent. At 24 hours without sleep, you’re at the equivalent of .10 percent, higher than the legal limit of .08 percent.

What You Can do to Stay Awake Behind the Wheel

  • Know the signs of drowsy driving. Pay attention to warning signs that you may be too sleepy to drive, including yawning, blinking, or frequently nodding, missing your exit, forgetting the last few miles you’ve driven, and drifting from your lane.
  • Make sleep a priority, especially when traveling. Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to drive drowsy than drivers who sleep well. You should get at least seven to seven and a half hours of sleep each night, especially when you’re taking a road trip. Take care to sleep well so you’ll be ready and refreshed to drive each day.
  • Maintain healthy sleep habits. Make the quality of your sleep count, so you’re making the most of the hours available for sleeping. Create a sleep schedule and sleep routine, and make sure you’re sleeping in a healthy sleep environment. Buy a new mattress if your old one is no longer conducive to sleeping well.
  • Pull over if you’re too sleepy to drive. Recognize the danger signs and take care to pull over if you feel like you’re too tired to drive safely. You can switch drivers, take a nap, or stop for the night. Alternatively, you can get out to stretch your legs and drink coffee, but these are temporary solutions. Turning up your music and opening the window to increase alertness is not effective.
  • Talk to your doctor. If you’re suffering from sleep disorders, talk to your doctor about a diagnosis and treatment so you can sleep better at night. People who take medications should always read warning labels, taking care to avoid driving when you take medications that may cause drowsiness.

 

About the Author

Ben DiMaggio is a researcher for the sleep science and health organization Tuck.com. Ben specializes in investigating how sleep, and sleep deprivation, affect public health and safety. Ben lives in Portland, Oregon. His worst sleep habit is checking his email right before bed.


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