We know that we shouldn’t drink and drive. In fact, most of us have probably never gotten behind the wheel when we knew that we’ve had too much. It’s much easier to plan ahead, call an Uber, bring a designated driver, or make arrangements to spend the night.
It’s much more likely, however, that you’ve driven drowsy. If you’ve gotten behind the wheel sleepy, you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of adults have done it and a third have even fallen asleep at the wheel. Though we’re all guilty of driving while feeling exhausted, it can actually be as dangerous as drunk driving. Falling asleep behind the wheel often leads to serious or fatal injury because the crashes occur at high speeds and without any evasive maneuvering.
Similarities Between Drowsy Driving and Drunk Driving
Being exhausted has many of the same effects as alcohol. You may experience:
- Impaired judgement
- Slower reaction time
- Reduced ability to determine distances
- Decreased awareness
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to ascertain how many accidents in the United States are due to drowsy driving. There’s no objective way for an officer to determine if a driver was sleepy. While an alcohol-impaired driver may submit to a blood or breath test, officers must rely on certain cues that sleepiness led to an accident. These cues may include absence of skid marks or evasive maneuvers, and may indicate a driver fell asleep behind the wheel.
Research on Drowsy Driving
There is plenty of evidence, however, that supports the idea that drowsy driving and drunk driving can have similar detrimental effects. A new study from AAA found that drowsy driving plays a role in a fifth of fatal crashes. It also discovered that drivers who sleep fewer than the seven hours recommended by sleep experts exponentially increase a risk of crashing. Missing an hour or two of sleep a night doubles your risk of being in an accident, while losing two or three can increase your risk of crashing by up to 400%. Those who log less than four hours of sleep each night are almost 12 times more likely to crash.
This shows that not getting enough sleep is extremely dangerous, both to yourself and other drivers on the road. Getting less than five hours of sleep a night, according to the study, is the same as driving drunk.
Tired drivers are more likely to drive distracted, react slower to hazards, and make more reckless decisions than those who get at least seven hours a night. Driver fatigue can be hard to spot, but you might notice:
- Frequent yawning.
- Nodding off or having trouble keeping eyes open.
- Drifting into an opposite lane or on to the shoulder.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, pull to the shoulder and take a break or call for help.
Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Make sure you’re getting enough rest each night, and keep an eye out for fatigued drivers on the road to reduce your risk of accident.