The dangers of drinking and driving and well-known. In more recent years, public service announcements have educated people on the hazards of texting and driving. But what may be surprising is that driving while drowsy might be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving was thought to be the cause of about 72,000 car accidents in 2015, which resulted in tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of fatalities.
But the statistics may not tell the entire story. It may be difficult to determine the exact number of crashes that are due to sleepy drivers. Unlike driving drunk, there is not a test to measure if a person is too tired to drive. Accident investigators review the circumstances of a crash to determine if fatigue played a role. Crashes due to drowsy driving often have similar characteristics, such as no skid marks, a lone driver, and accidents occurring late at night on a high-speed road.
How Driving is Affected When You’re Sleepy
Driving drowsy can affect driving in some of the same ways driving under the influence can. In fact, studies tested drivers who had been awake for 24 hours. Researchers found that drivers have impairments similar to those who had a blood-alcohol level of .10. In most states, 0.8 is considered intoxicated. Driving drowsy can affect your driving in several ways including:
Delayed reactions: When you are tried, your reaction time is slowed. Think about how many times you have needed to make split-second corrections when driving. Whether it involves swerving or slamming on the brakes, seconds count when you are driving. Even a brief delay in reaction time can increase your chances of a crash.
Impaired judgment: When you are sleep deprived, your judgment may also be affected. For instance, you may be more likely to take a chance and think you have enough room to pull out in front of someone. Also, drowsy drivers often do not recognize just how sleepy they are.
Increased aggression: When you’re tired and just want to get when you need to be, your patience often wears thin. You may be more likely to react aggressively if you have an encounter on the road with another driver.
Magnified effect of alcohol on the body: Being sleepy also increases the effect of alcohol. So, one or two drinks may affect you differently if you are tired.
How Do You Know If You Are Too Tired to Drive?
Although you may feel tired, how sleepy is too sleepy to drive? Since there is not an exact test to determine if you are too fatigued to drive, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Don’t push through and try to drive if you are drowsy. Signs you may be too tired to drive include the following:
- Driving over the rumble strips
- Trouble remembering the last few miles you drove
- Tired eyes and heavy eyelids
- Frequent yawning and blinking
- Taking wrong turns
To prevent being in a situation where you are too tired to drive, it’s best to try to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you are planning a long drive, take a nap before you hit the road. Ideally, don’t plan on driving between midnight and 6 a.m. That’s because your natural circadian rhythm encourages your body to sleep at that time.
Driving while fatigued may be particularly catastrophic with commercial truck and bus drivers, given the size of those vehicles, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has various Hours of Service rules and other laws in place designed to prevent drowsy commercial drivers. Unfortunately, those rules are sometimes igored by drivers or their employers.
Remember, nothing replaces getting a good night’s rest. But what do you do if you are already behind the wheel and start getting drowsy? According to the National Sleep Foundation, consider the following suggestions:
- Stop: Stop as soon as you get to a safe location and consider taking a short 20-minute nap. If you’re driving with a buddy, switch places and have him drive.
- Drink coffee: Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, may help increase alertness for a short time. But don’t rely solely on coffee to keep you awake. The effects of caffeine wear off after a couple of hours.
- Take a stretch break: Pull over into a rest stop and get out and stretch for five minutes. Moving around may get the blood flowing and increase alertness.
Just like driving under the influence is a choice, so is driving drowsy. Unfortunately, fatigued driving is a leading cause of accidents and those responsible need to be held accountable. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in a crash likely caused by the negligence of another driver — including a fatigued driver — we are uniquely qualified and able to help. Please call our office at 312-698-3694 for a free consultation with one of our top-rated attorneys.