Driving Drowsy: Why it’s so Risky
Last week we wrote about new moms being exhausted and how that affected their ability to drive safely. But it’s not just new moms who are driving drowsy.
In fact, an American Automobile Association study shows 40% of drivers surveyed fell asleep while driving at least once in their lifetime. And according to the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year.
Why are there so many people driving drowsy? Of course there are circumstances like commercial driving, night shift work or becoming new parents that affect sleep habits. But many people who aren’t having those life experiences are still tired. Look around (to pre COVID times) and you see our society if full of people who are just going and going. Since we’re all go, go, go, many of us don’t get enough sleep. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
People who snore or typically sleep 6 hours or less are more likely to report falling asleep while driving. I can attest to this as the wife of a snorer. I have to stay awake while he drives because he starts doing the head bob, usually in the afternoon.
When we get back to “normal” life remember this factoid. If you are awake for 20 hours straight and get into a car to drive, you are driving drowsy which is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08. While this is a legal limit, it’s starting to impair your reaction time. Your reaction time slows and drowsiness affects your ability to make good decisions.
Driving drowsy and crashes
Obviously this makes driving drowsy dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), estimates that in 2017 there were 91,000 police-reported crashes involving drowsy drivers. The results of these crashes were an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 795 deaths.
There are three factors that are most commonly associated with crashes caused by driving drowsy.
- Can occur any time but most often occur between midnight and 6 am or late afternoon. These are the times of day when people experiences dips in their circadian rhythm.
- Frequently occur on highways or rural roads
- Involve cars with only a driver (no passengers) running off the road at high speeds and no signs of braking
Signs to get off the road
Here are some signs that you may be too tired to drive:
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven. We can all go into autopilot while driving but this can also be a sign of being sleepy.
- Wandering/disconnected thoughts or daydreaming
- Feeling heavy eyelids or frequently blinking
- Difficulty focusing on the road
- Yawning repeatedly
- Head nodding
- Drifting from your lane or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
- Feeling restless and irritable
If you are experiencing any of these signs, pull off the road to a safe spot.
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Tips to Avoid Driving Drowsy
Sleep is a powerful biological drive. It can overtake even the best driver. Tricks like rolling down the windows and turning up the radio volume are not effective ways to keep you alert. Here’s what will help:
- Consistently get plenty of sleep. Remember an adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night and a teen needs 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night to have optimal functioning ability. Develop good sleep habits and a sleep schedule. If you have a sleep disorder, look into treatment options.
- Get off the road. Safely pull off the road as soon as possible to a safe location to take a nap or find a hotel room if you are on a longer road trip. Even a 20-minute nap can refresh you enough to go a little further.
- Avoid alcohol or medications that make you sleepy before driving.
- Avoid driving during peak sleepiness periods (midnight to 6 am and late afternoons).
- Get a good night’s sleep prior to a long road trip or take a short nap right before leaving. Also bring another driver so you can take turns; one drives while one naps.
- Drinking coffee can help for short spurts. But don’t count on it to get you through a long night of driving. Drinking coffee can make you think you are more alert than you really are.
Keep these tips in mind if you are considering any road tripping this summer. We recommend you make it an adventure and plan lots of family-friendly stops and overnight in hotels. We want you and your family to arrive at your destination safe and sound.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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