You know not to get behind the wheel if you’re not sober enough, but what if you’re not awake enough? Driving drunk and driving drowsy both double the risk of a car accident according to a recent study. In fact, being awake for 18 hours is the equivalent of a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, which is legally drunk.
The statistics are alarming: about one-sixth of fatal car accidents involve a drowsy driving according to the AAA Foundation, but the actual number may be much higher.
Drowsy Driving Risk Factors
Since we all need sleep, anyone is at risk of driving drowsy. Specific groups who are most likely to drive drowsy include:
- Males under the age of 25 – more than half of drowsy driving crashes are caused by drivers under the age of 25
- Shift workers are 6 times more likely to drive drowsy, especially rotating shift workers and people who work more than 60 hours per week
- Commercial drivers (at least 15 percent of heavy truck crashes involve fatigue, according to the National Sleep Foundation)
- People who have untreated sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. The risk of falling asleep at the wheel is seven times higher for those with obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder with symptoms that include pauses in breathing at night which make the person wake up frequently in order to resume breathing.
To determine whether you are at risk, consider whether you are:
- Sleep-deprived. Sleeping 6 hours or fewer per night puts you at triple the risk.
- Suffering from loss of sleep
- Driving a long ways without adequate breaks for rest
- Under the influence of sedative medications such as antihistamines, muscle relaxers, pain killers or antianxiety medications
- Working a shift job or working more than 60 hours per week
- Drinking alcohol, even small amounts
- Driving alone, especially on a long, rural road in the dark
The Signs of Drowsy Driving
Recognizing the signs of drowsy driving are important in order to prevent what causes 100,000 car crashes per year, as reported by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of the symptoms of drowsy driving include:
- Trouble focusing, frequent blinking, heavy eyes
- Short-term memory problems, not seeing traffic or exit signs
- Repeated yawning
- Drifting, tailgating, hitting a rumble strip
- Restless, irritable feeling
Ways to Combat Drowsy Driving
If you plan on getting behind the wheel, make sure you do the following:
- Get enough sleep, between 7-9 hours to be adequately alert
- Schedule rest breaks every 100 miles or two hours during long car trips
- Bring a travel companion to help share the driving (drowsy driving accidents are far less common when another person is in the car for the driver to talk to)
- Avoid alcohol and sedating medication
If you’re on the road and start to feel drowsy, do the following:
- Pull over the car
- Take a nap for about 15 to 20 minutes – more than 20 minutes can make you groggy
- Drink a caffeinated beverage such as a soft drink, energy drink, coffee, tea or tablet. For best results, take a nap and then drink a caffeinated beverage
- Be aware of rumble strips
To learn more about the risks of driving drowsy, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.