Whenever you get behind the wheel of a car and are sleepy, that is known as drowsy driving. It's one of the most dangerous things that you can do, second to drunk driving or driving under the influence. In fact, after a certain number of hours of no sleep, your brain is very similar to one that is drunk.
Drowsy driving can significantly increase the risk of accidents which leads to a high number of injuries and deaths every year. There are so many sleeping problems across the United States, that increased awareness of drowsy driving can significantly positively impact public health. Continue reading to find out more about drowsy driving so you can avoid practicing it and contributing to the large number of drivers on the road who are driving at suboptimal consciousness.
Prevalence of Drowsy Driving
There is no exact measure of drowsing driving because it's hard to define. Some may be slightly tired, but still alert enough to properly operate a vehicle. However, others are severely sleep deprived, and may just get away with driving without being caught. Unless every single person in the United States analyzed their driving and then answered some sort of survey stating whether or not they drive while sleepy, it will be impossible to quantify the number of drowsy drivers.
However, a poll in 2005 showed that more than half of the drivers in America report drowsy driving. Another survey from the CDC indicated that 1 in 25 adults have fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past month.
Dangers of Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving is a major contribute to major vehicular accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2017, more than 90,000 crashes which resulted in about 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths.
This data underestimates the true prevalence of drowsy driving due to the factors stated previously. Also, sometimes it is hard to determine that fatigue was the cause of a crash as there is no way to directly measure, such as blood alcohol levels in drunk driving.
There are other studies that show that drowsy driving causes about 6000 deadly crashes every year and that about 21% of fatal car crashes involved a person drowsy driving.
Drowsy driving increases the risk of car accidents due to microsleeps. Microsleeps are few seconds of sleep or dozing off, without fully lapsing into deep sleep. This can occur while driving and is easy for drivers to run off the road or collide with others. These urges to sleep are almost irresistible which is what makes drowsy driving so dangerous.
Even if the person doesn't fall asleep, drowsy driving impairs cognition, reaction times, focus, and has many similar impairments as drunk driving. Individuals are more easily distracted and less aware when they are tired. There is also decreased decision-making capacity when individuals are drowsy driving.
Drowsy Driving Causes
There are many factors that can cause drowsy driving. One is sleep deprivation which can cause excessive daytime sleepiness. These are what lead to themicrosleeps or other dangerous driving behaviors. Adults should get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but there are a large number of adults who fail to hit this number.
Sleep disorders can be another barrier to getting enough sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a person's sleep to be interrupted due to cessations in breathing throughout the night. The body then has to wake itself up in order to begin breathing again. Those with OSA will not remember waking up, but will feel groggy and like they did not get a full night's sleep, even if they were in bed for the recommended number of hours.
Snoring, choking, gasping for air, and pauses in breathing are all common signs of OSA. If you or your bed partner suspect that you may have this, then it's important to get it checked out immediately.
Sleep disorders are not the only alternative cause of sleep deprivation. Drinking alcohol can promote sleepiness while also affecting decision-making in ways that can lead to accidents while driving.
Medications can also have a similar effect, especially those with drowsiness as a side effect. Sleep aids, allergy medication, and many other medications may cause sleepiness so you shouldn't operate a vehicle after taking one.
Drowsy driving also tends to happen throughout the night from midnight to six am, or in the mid-afternoon when the post-lunch sleepiness sets in. These are two peak times of day for drowsy driving, and times that you should be more vigilant as a driver for yourself and other drowsy drivers.
High Risk Populations
Anyone can be a drowsy driver, however, there are certain groups that are at higher risk than other groups. Those who drive for a living, like long-haul truckers or bus drivers, people who work long hours or night shifts, individuals with sleeping disorders, and teenagers with decreased driving experience and high rates of sleep insufficiency.
Signs of Drowsy Driving
There are certain signs that may arise when you are sleepy that should clue you in on not driving, and taking a rest. These include:
- Dozing off
- Tired eyes
- Drifting into other lanes
- Forgetting the previous few miles
- Missing a road sign or exit
- Following other cars too closely
- Difficulty maintaining proper speed
All of these are signs that you may be too tired to drive. If you experience any of them, please pull over somewhere safe and get some rest, or don't even drive in the first place if you can avoid it.
Avoiding Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving is avoidable and can prevent accidents, so it's something you should take seriously. Before you begin driving, it's important to plan ahead to limit total driving hours. This is important especially for long road trips. Avoid driving during drowsy times of the day and get a good night's rest. Avoid anything that can make you sleepy, such as big meals, alcohol, etc. And if traveling a long way, try and bring a travel companion if possible.
While you're driving, watch for warning signs. If you experience any of the above signs, then it may be time to take a break. Use caffeine to help you stay awake. And avoid becoming too involved with "tricks" to keep you awake, like messing with the air conditioning and the radio, as this can distract you from driving.
The best thing you can do to avoid drowsy driving is to create healthy sleep habits. Focusing on sleep hygiene, which includes habits and sleep setting, can help you really get enough rest where you will be less likely to drive drowsy.
If you find yourself constantly tired, and are nervous that you may get behind the wheel of a car without having proper rest, then click the orange button and take our free online sleep test to get in contact with a sleep health professional as soon as possible. Your sleepiness may indicate a more severe underlying problem, and it's important to get it resolved before something severe comes from it.