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The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued a report on the dangers of drowsy driving.

Drowsy driving is a significant problem in the United States.  It is estimated that one in 25 drivers aged 18 and over report having falling asleep behind the wheel in the prior 30 days.  Accurate, complete data is difficult to obtain, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 estimates drowsy driving was the cause of 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 fatalities.  However, a 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the  number of fatal crashes caused by drowsy drivers was approximately 6,400 fatal crashes annually.  Study can be difficult because there is no definitive test to measure drowsiness similar to the breath analyzers used to determine blood alcohol levels.

What is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving is the combination of sleepiness or fatigue and driving.  It is most commonly caused by a driver having a lack of sleep.  Other causes include medications, shift work, sleep disorders or alcohol consumption.

The biggest danger of drowsy driving is obviously falling asleep.  However, driving drowsy affects your ability to drive even if you do not fall asleep. The other dangers to drivers can include slowed reaction time.  Drowsiness makes it harder for a driver to steer or brake suddenly.  Drowsiness also makes it more difficult for a driver to make good decisions. Finally, drowsiness makes it more difficult for a driver to pay attention while driving.

What Are the Warning Signs of Driving Drowsy?

Here are some of the warning signs of drowsy driving:

  • Not remembering the past several miles you have driven;
  • Realizing you have missed your exit or made some other driving mistake;
  • Having trouble keeping your head-up;
  • Heavy eyelids;
  • Frequent yawning and watery eyes; or
  • Drifting from your lane, either across the center line toward oncoming traffic or hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.

 How Can Drowsy Driving Be Prevented?

The key is preventing drowsy driving before you get in your car and start driving.  Here are some important suggestions for what drivers can do.  Drivers need to make sure they get enough sleep.  Generally, teen drivers need at least eight hours of sleep every day.  Adult drivers need at least seven hours.  Do not consume alcohol before driving and be aware of how you are affected by any medications you are taking.  It is important to have a sleep schedule and develop good sleep habits.  Sleep schedules only work if you follow them.  Talk to your doctor about any possible sleep disorders or if you experience the symptoms of a sleep disorder.  This could include snoring or frequently experiencing tiredness during the day.  Avoid relying on caffeine.  Caffeine will only increase alertness for a short period of time.  It is not a long term solution.

The only way to make up a sleep deficit is with sleep.  There is no other substitute.

How Does Drowsy Driving Compare to Drunk Driving?

According to a story in the Times Sentinel, drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.  This conclusion was based on a recent report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  The report found that losing just one hour of sleep doubles a driver’s risk of getting into an automobile crash.  The report goes on to say that if a driver loses two to three hours of sleep, the risk of a car crash is quadrupled.  This is the same rate as a driver over the legal limit of alcohol.

The Times Sentinel article references a 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that concluded insufficient sleep is a public health problem in this country.  The report went on, finding that one in three adults is not get enough sleep regularly.  As already described, adults need at least seven hours of sleep every night.

One theory about this lack of sleep is poor work life balance.  As Americans, we work too much and have other responsibilities to family and friends.  The internet, along with literally hundreds of cable channels, can also provide easy distractions.  The easiest place to cut time appears to be sleep.  But this can be very dangerous.  The combination of the two studies listed above should be quite sobering if you drive.

Take the Pledge Against Drowsy Driving!

The National Sleep Foundation has long been an advocate of sleep health and safety.  The National Sleep Foundation started the Pledge Against Drowsy Driving initiative in an effort to raise awareness about drowsy driving.  It also seeks to educate drivers about its effects and how it can be avoided.  They have declared a week in November to be Drowsy Driving Awareness Week.  The goal of the National Sleep Foundation is to bring together their members, Congress and communities to raise awareness, decrease drowsy driving and improve safety on the road.

What Do I Do If I Realize I Am Drowsy Driving?

If you realize you are drowsy driving, do not ignore the signs!  These statistics apply to you, not just other people. Remember that you are not just endangering yourself and your passengers.  If you cross the centerline you will also be endangering oncoming traffic.  Do not assume you can just “power through” it and keep driving.  If possible, find a safe place to pull over.  Once you are in a safe place, take a 15-20 minute nap.  Studies have shown that even 15 to 20 minutes can refresh you.  Another option, if possible, would be switching drivers.  Finally, consider whether an investment in a hotel room for the night might be in order.  You won’t get a chance to undo your choice, regardless of the choice you make.

If You Have Been Injured in a Car Accident

Drowsy driving is a common cause of accidents.  If you have been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation.  Contact the skilled auto accident attorneys in Atlanta at the Bader Law Firm, LLC.  We are advocates of the people.  Let us work for you.

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