According to National Sleep Foundation surveys and studies, 50% of American adults consistently report that they have driven drowsy. Moreover, 20% admit that they have fallen asleep at the wheel in the previous year. Drowsy driving constitutes a significant percentage of road accidents, which is why these statistics are so shocking.
Most drivers are ill-informed on the dangers of driving while tired that they have become accustomed to not worrying about it. However, in recent years, experts have been calling for extra attention to this problem to reduce road accidents and crashes.
What is drowsy driving?
Drowsy driving, also known as driver’s fatigue, is the act of operating a motor vehicle while sleepy, tired, or fatigued.
Drowsy driving is deadly driving
Drowsy driving presents a huge risk for the driver’s health, the passengers, and other people. Driving while being tired can lead to severe road accidents resulting in loss of lives, injuries, and property destruction.
Drowsiness also affects the driver’s judgment, attention, prediction, vigilance, anticipation, and reaction time. It can make the driver lose their grip on the speed limit, forget to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, and shutters his/her defensive driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 100,000 police-reported crashes happen every year due to drowsy driving. These 100,000 estimated crashes cause more than 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
Experts in traffic safety, sleep science, and public health organizations agree that this is underestimated. However, determining the real precise number is very difficult due to the very many factors involved. Crash investigators usually look for clues that drowsiness led to a crash, but these clues are never conclusive.
Furthermore, unlike alcohol impairment, which can be measured using blood alcohol measurements, i.e., a Breathalyzer, you cannot accurately measure sleep deprivation. Measuring sleep deprivation relies heavily on the drivers admitting that most people are reluctant to do it. In most cases, drowsy driving accidents end up being attributed to other factors.
Data from England, Finland, Australia, and other European countries showcases drowsy driving as 10% – 30% of all road accidents. As earlier stated, an estimated 20% of American adults admit that they have fallen asleep while driving in the previous year. With this in light, the estimated figure of drowsy driving-related accidents may be more than double the originally conceived figure.
In the U.S alone, drowsiness is the main culprit in approximately 21% of fatal crashes every year. Besides, the societal cost of drowsy driving in this country is estimated to be between $12.5 billion and $109 billion per year.
CDC has done several studies and surveys on the effects of drowsiness while driving. They found out that people who snored or slept for 6 hours or less per day were more likely to fall asleep while driving.
Another study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that sleeping between six and seven hours a night doubled the risk of being involved in a crash. Getting less than five hours of sleep doubled the risk again.
Even though drunk driving and drowsy driving are not the same things, they have been found to cause the same number of crashes in controlled studies. 18 hours of being awake have been seen to have the same effect as having an alcohol content of 0.05%. 20 hours of being awake have also been seen to have the same effect as having an alcohol content of 0.08%. At 24 hours of being awake, you will exhibit an impairment similar to a blood alcohol content of 0.1%.
Why drowsy driving can land you in jail
Most states in the U.S have not outlawed drowsy driving specifically. However, it is considered a form of reckless driving in the same respect as drunk driving. Therefore, drowsy driving can land you in jail almost in the same manner as drunk driving.
As seen previously, being awake for 24 hours will lead to impairment similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.1%. This is more than the legal limit of 0.08% in every American state.
To add salt to injury, you may end up paying huge settlements in some cases. Multi-million-dollar settlements have been made to families of accident victims. Lawsuits can be filed against an individual who drove drowsy for victim compensation, which is the same for businesses whose employees were involved in drowsy driving accidents.
Signs of drowsy driving
Even though there is no quick test to determine whether you are drowsy or not, there are a few signs you can be on the lookout for. In case you experience any of them, take regular driving breaks.
You could pull over to a secure place and take a 15–20-minute nap, or if possible, change drivers. Do not turn up the music or open a window since these are not effective ways of staying awake.
Make sure to be on the lookout for these signs of drowsy driving:
- Constant and frequent yawning.
- Wondering thoughts.
- Taking your eyes off the road.
- Having trouble keeping your head up.
- Difficulties in keeping your eyes open.
- Restlessness, irritability, and aggressiveness.
- Trouble recalling the last few miles driven.
- Difficulties in keeping the appropriate safe distance from other vehicles.
- Missing road signs and exits.
- Drifting from your given lane or into the shoulder of the road.
Who is at risk?
1. Young drivers
Young drivers, especially male drivers, tend to drive drowsy due to their behaviors and lifestyle choices. Such choices may Include; working long hours, drinking alcohol, staying up till late, and getting little sleep.
2. Shift workers
Working on rotating shifts can make It hard for anyone to sleep. Shift workers work at odd hours, even during the night when they are tired and need sleep. Their sleeping schedule is not set.
Shift workers will often experience a circadian rhythm sleep disorder due to their sleeping schedule. Speaking, they suffer from a lack of sleep or poor sleep quality, making them less alert when driving.
3. Commercial drivers
These drivers tend to be on their seats throughout a long journey for long periods. Driving for such long distances, especially when the routine is very repetitive, can lead to boredom and drowsiness.
4. Ridesharing service providers
These individuals tend to work in non-fixed hours. They do not have set times for sleeping and resting. They may end up sleeping in many different situations, which is a condition referred to as cumulative partial sleep deprivation.
5. Business travelers
Business travelers find it hard to sleep in a different location due to their internal clock not syncing to different regions. Moreover, they find it hard to sleep during flights, which results in a huge problem for them.
6. People with the sleep disorder
Individuals who suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, Insomnia, or narcolepsy may experience drowsiness more frequently than most. This is more likely If the disorder goes untreated. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which affects more than 12 million people in the U.S, Is the major cause of drowsy driving.
Ways of reducing drowsy driving
1. Employee protection and safety
Places of work should incorporate enough guidelines and standard protocols to safeguard their workers from sleep deprivation. Safety and health programs can be used added to sufficiently inform and train employees to evade drowsiness. This is majorly important to certain employees such as commercial workers, shift workers, and business travelers.
2. University interventions
On average, a university student gets less sleep than most average adults. College kids sleep for less than six hours on average. Such a short amount of sleep can lead to drowsy driving and thus must be dealt with. Changing the education program and its schedule can help fix this problem.
3. Safety technologies
Governments should widely implement crash avoidance technologies to help in road and traffic safety. Safety technologies such as lane departure warnings and drowsiness alerts can help detect drowsy driving patterns. Detecting these drowsy driving patterns will warn the drivers to stay in their lane or take a break from driving.
4. Proper driving education
Driving schools and parents should make it their top priority to teach young adults the importance of safety, especially young males. Young males are very vulnerable to breaking safe driving protocols. An emphasis on issues that should always be avoided, such as drowsy driving, will go a long way in saving their lives.
5. Sleep for at least 7 hours a day.
Proper sleep for the proper amount of time is the only way you will get rid of your drowsiness. Make it a habit to sleep on a regular schedule with enough flexibility so that you can have a proper sleep daily.
6. Check in with your doctor in case you have any sleep disorders.
Get the needed treatment and follow the recommended sleep guidelines given by your doctor. Sleep disorders can be annoying but are very manageable with good treatment and great care for your health.
7. Avoid drowsiness inducing medication while driving
While driving, avoid any given medication that has been sited to cause drowsiness. Check the medication label and instructions for any warning for side effects. Take note of the side effects and avoid taking the medication when you are driving, or the least, find a substitute driver to drive you around.
8. Do not drive during peak sleepiness periods
Avoid driving during the peak sleepiness periods in the late afternoon and between 12 a.m. – 6 a.m.
9. Drive with a group of people
A UCLA study found that having a group of friends or even just one friend can greatly reduce your chances of falling asleep while driving. This can also be of great advantage if you ever need to sleep and let the other person take over.
10. Drive during the day
If possible, drive during the day, especially when the sun is up. The sun stimulates melatonin production and your circadian rhythm. This helps in keeping you awake and alert during the day.
Nevertheless, the sun is a great source of vitamin D, which can help you sleep better during the night.
11. Drinking coffee or energy drinks alone cannot counter your drowsiness.
Remember that drinking coffee or energy drinks alone cannot counter your drowsiness. Coffee and energy drinks will temporarily fix the problem, but you will still experience microsleeps with four to five lost consciousness seconds. What does this mean? If you were driving at 55 miles per hour, you would have moved by 100 yards while asleep, enough distance to cause an accident.
The recommended strategy would be to take one or two cups of coffee and pull over for a 15-20- minute nap.
Factors that may contribute to drowsy driving
1. Shift work and traveling
Working night shifts or long shifts will affect your sleeping schedule and mess with your internal sleeping clock. Avoid long shifts or night shifts where possible, or the least, reduce them to a minimum so that you can maintain your internal sleeping clock and your sleeping schedule intact.
2. Feeling sleep-deprived
Sleep deprivation will make drivers less attentive, slow in reacting, and affect their ability to make critical decisions. It would be best if you never risked falling asleep at the wheel or even dozing off for a second. A lot can happen in that time frame.
3. Medication interaction and lost sleep
You may have visited a doctor once and been told not to operate any machinery while taking the given medication. A lot of medications in the stores and those prescribed by a doctor can result in drowsiness.
They usually have warning labels and instructions on the oncoming side effects. Always make sure you read the side effects of any given medication you may be taking. You do not want your driving capabilities to be hindered.
Some of the medications proven to cause drowsiness include; narcotic pain pills, antidepressants, tranquilizers, a few high blood-pressure pills, muscle relaxants, cold medicines, and obviously, sleeping pills.
4. Alcohol consumption
Consuming alcohol will make you sleepy. This is on top of all the other effects that drunkenness can cause, such as poor reaction time, mind wandering, and poor eyesight. Drunk drivers often become impulsive, overly confident in their driving skills, expressive, and partake in risky driving techniques.
There are some road safety laws and precautions that may seem obvious but are very much ignored. Drowsy driving is one of them. Considering most people work up to five jobs 5 times a week, it is clear how drivers can quickly disregard drowsy driving.
However, awareness and progressive advocation on drowsy driving dangers have led to people becoming more vigilant.
Here is a summary of the precautions you may take to deal with drowsy driving:
- Prioritize employee protection and safety.
- Encourage university intervention to change sleep-depriving education programs.
- Safety technologies to help prevent drowsy driving.
- Proper driving education to teach the dangers and effects of drowsy driving.
- Sleep for at least 7 hours a day.
- Check-in with your doctor in case you have any sleep disorders.
- Avoid drowsiness-inducing medication while driving.
- Do not drive during peak sleepiness periods.
- Drive with a group of people, especially during long drives.
- Drive during the day.
- Drinking coffee or energy drinks alone cannot counter your drowsiness. Incorporate driving breaks and short naps to the drinks if the coffee or energy drink is needed.