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How Driving Drowsy Can Be More Dangerous Than Driving Drunk

Dan Brian   |  November 6, 2018   |  

It’s a universally accepted fact that driving drunk is dangerous and has a high risk of leading to accidents. Many people don’t recognize is that driving while drowsy can be just as dangerous, if not more so, as driving under the influence of alcohol. Multitudes of Americans get less than eight hours of sleep per night, wake up not feeling rested, and hop into the driver’s seat without thinking about how a lack of sleep may affect safety while driving.

The impact of lost sleep on driving can be tremendous – with drowsy driving having a level of risk as high as, or higher than, drunk driving.

Drowsy Driving and Car Accidents

Drinking and driving is so dangerous because alcohol inhibits our mental functioning, reducing observation, slowing down our reaction time, and impairing our focus. Without these abilities, we lose the capability to make smart decisions and stay alert on the road. Not getting enough sleep impacts these same critical skills, putting us at risk for accidents.

Drowsy driving plays a role in almost 20 percent of fatal crashes across America, according to a study by AAA. When someone fails to get enough sleep, the risk for crashing:

  • Is double for drivers missing one or two hours of sleep
  • Quadruples for drivers missing three to four hours of sleep
  • Increases by 11.5 times for drivers who have slept less than four hours in a 24-hour period

Motorists who drive with a blood alcohol concentration at or slightly above the legal limit have the same approximate crash rate as drivers who only get four to five hours of sleep a night. The risk of being in an accident is even higher for drivers who get less than four hours of sleep. Many drivers don’t even recognize they’re drowsy or don’t want to admit falling asleep behind the wheel, which makes drowsy driving an underreported statistic.

If a driver hasn’t gotten enough sleep and drinks alcohol, the risk of crashing can be even worse. Someone who drinks one beer on less than four hours of sleep can experience similar effects to someone who drinks six beers while well rested.

Learning the Signs of Drowsiness

People can often easily identify someone who is too drunk to drive, and blood alcohol content provides an easy metric for determining when someone is over the legal limit. It is much more difficult to recognize the signs of sleep deprivation and drowsiness because there’s no clear way to determine if someone is rested enough to get behind the wheel. You may not believe you are experiencing any symptoms, but you may be drowsy if you are:

  • Yawning frequently
  • Drifting into the opposite lane or onto the shoulder of the road
  • Not keeping a long enough following distance from the car ahead of you
  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open
  • Missing turns you need to make
  • Starting to doze off behind the wheel

If you experience any of these signs, it’s time to take a break from driving. Switch out with another driver or pull off the road. Being late is better than not reaching your destination at all due to an accident.

Preventing the Risks of Drowsiness While Driving

Take precautions to avoid drowsiness when you’re preparing for a long drive for work or pleasure. The best course of action is to always get plenty of sleep and avoid driving when tired, but you should also:

  • Take regular breaks every 100 miles or two hours
  • Not take any medications that can cause drowsiness
  • Travel with a passenger to help keep you awake and split driving time

Drowsiness can still become an issue while driving even with proper preparation – especially if you’re traveling at night. If you have no other options, you should pull off the road and take a nap. Otherwise, you’ll risk ending up in an accident and potentially suffer life-altering injuries. If you were hit by a drowsy driver, you may be able to file a car accident claim. Call an accident attorney in the area to see your options.