Most responsible adults know better than to drink and drive. They understand that alcohol impairs their judgment, reactions and response time which make it unsafe to operate a vehicle. They know that drinking and driving penalties are severe because of the danger drunk driving poses to the driver, any occupants of their car, and any other driver or pedestrian in their path.
Most responsible adults know these things, but what they don’t know is that driving drowsy is just as dangerous as driving drunk because sleep deprivation causes the same deficits.
Most responsible adults don’t understand the dangers of drowsy driving because if they did, they would not be doing so much of it. In a recent Sleep in America poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, in the last year 60% of Americans have driven when they were sleepy and 37% acknowledge that they have fallen asleep while driving. To put this in perspective, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that roughly 8% of drivers drive drunk each year. This means that there are more than 4 times as many people falling asleep while driving as there are people who are driving drunk.
The NSF indicates that one problem is that people don’t know how to tell when they are about to fall asleep. People also believe that they can control whether or not they fall asleep which is not always the case. Like other unhealthy attitudes about sleep, there is this idea that they can simply power-thru, force themselves to stay awake, and through some mind-over-matter miracle, continue driving safely.
The truth however, is very different. The NHTSA estimates that there are at least 100,000 accidents each year directly contributable to drowsy driving. These accidents result in the death of more than 1500 people and the injury of 70,000 others. However, everyone agrees that these numbers are on the low side as it isn’t always easy to determine if drowsy driving was a factor in an accident. Unlike drunk driving, there is no test that tells police if the person responsible for the accident was simply too tired to be driving.
So, how can you tell if you are just a little tired or if you are too tired to drive?
Here are 10 signs you can use as warning lights that you are too tired to be behind the wheel.
- If you are having trouble keeping your vision focused or feel like your eyelids are very heavy.
- If you find yourself blinking more than normal or rubbing your eyes a lot.
- If you are having trouble keeping your mind focused on driving and realize you are day dreaming or your mind is wandering.
- If you suddenly realize you don’t remember driving the last few miles or are struck by the fact that you don’t remember how you got where you are now.
- If you miss turns, exits, or other navigation.
- If you go through a stop sign, find yourself sitting stopped at a green light, or miss other traffic signs or signals.
- If you are yawning repeatedly.
- If you catch yourself falling asleep or feel your head jerk up.
- If you are having trouble staying in your lane and catch yourself straying across the middle line or into the breakdown lane.
- If you know you are sleep deprived, meaning you did not get enough sleep the previous night or are in a consistent pattern of not getting enough sleep each night.
The key to making our roads safer for everyone is to raise awareness, educate the public, and change our own behavior. There was a time, not that long ago, that people thought drunk driving wasn’t a big deal either. Hard work, education, and legislative action have helped decrease the number of drunk drivers. Now, let’s get everyone on board with the idea that it is just as dangerous to be asleep at the wheel.
- Drowsy Driving (sleepfoundation.org)
- How to Stop Drowsy Driving (valleysleepcenter.com)
- Transportation Workers and Sleep: How Tired is Your Pilot? (valleysleepcenter.com)