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How Can I Tell if I am Too Drowsy to Drive?

Raise your hand if you have driven drowsy this week.  This month.  This year.

If someone asked all of America to do this, almost half the population would have to raise our hands.

There is no question that we have a problem with drowsy driving in America.  The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) estimates that 168 million Americans drove drowsy in the past year.   That figure makes it very clear that either we don’t understand how dangerous it is to drive when overtired or we just don’t care how dangerous it is. Either way, our bad information, bad decisions, and bad habits are costing more than 1,000 people each year their lives.  We have strict laws against texting while driving and being on the phone.  We have strict laws against driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.  And yet, many of us seem to think it is ok to drive when we are overtired even though losing a single night of sleep causes the same impairment as a blood alcohol level of .10, which is legally drunk here in Arizona.   Maybe we just don’t know how to tell if we are too drowsy to drive.


How Can I Tell if I am Too Tired to Get Behind the Wheel?

Start by thinking about how much sleep you got last night.  Did you wake up feeling refreshed or like you hadn’t really slept at all?  Did you struggle to stay awake while sitting at your desk earlier in the day?  If you can pinpoint other times during the day that you felt tired or found yourself dozing off, you may be too tired to drive.  Sleep loss and sleep deprivation are primary risk factors for drowsy driving crashes according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).    Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, so if you got less than 8, you have a greater risk.  People who slept for 6 or 7 hours are twice as likely to get in a drowsy driving accident as someone who slept 8 or more hours.  If you slept even less, spending less than 5 hours asleep, you may be five times as likely to become a drowsy driving statistic.

If you got a good night’s sleep, you aren’t automatically in the clear.  There are other factors that can significantly increase your risk.  If you drive primarily in the middle of the night, you are at a higher risk.  If you regularly drive for long periods of time or lots of miles, you may have an increased risk.  You may also have an undiagnosed sleep disorder like sleep apnea that cause excessive daytime sleepiness.  If you find yourself struggling to stay awake behind the wheel no matter how much sleep you get at night, it may be time to talk to your doctor and see if you have a sleep disorder.

This week is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week and we urge everyone to take a little time to think about the last time you drove drowsy and then commit to not doing it again.   Next time you get behind the wheel, pause long enough to figure out if you are too tired to drive before you even start the engine.


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