In the last month, 1 in 25 adults have reported falling asleep at the wheel, putting themselves, their passengers and other roadway users in grave danger. Drowsy driving is becoming a growing problem in the United States, and federal authorities at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are calling for additional studies and public education on this hazardous epidemic that kills more than 1,500 people annually. Recent stats from the NHTSA estimate that every year, more than 100,000 vehicle crashes are attributed to excessive fatigue.
Some 60 percent of Americans polled by the National Sleep Foundation say they have driven while feeling drowsy and another 37 percent admit they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel within the last 12 months. While the risks of falling asleep at the wheel are obvious, the danger lurks long before you nod off. Drivers who are sleep-deprived have much slower reaction times, slower processing skills and generally make poor decisions that can cost them – and other motorists—their lives.
Hazards of drowsy driving
Research has shown that the physiological effects of being tired are akin to the effects of drinking alcohol. It may seem harmless to get behind the wheel when you’re feeling exhausted, but even losing just a few hours of sleep each evening can hamper your driving abilities and performance significantly. In fact, skimping on your nightly slumber can nearly double your risk of being involved in a crash, says the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
After reviewing data on thousands of vehicle accidents, AAA traffic safety officials discovered some alarming facts about driving while drowsy:
- Driving on less than 5 hours of sleep is akin to driving drunk
- People who get 5-6 hours of sleep are 1.9 times more likely to be in a drowsy driving accident
- People who get less than 4 hours of sleep have a 11.5 greater risk of crashing their vehicle
Failing to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep on a regular basis can have dire consequences, but less than 1/3 of the American population gets the minimum 7 hours of recommended slumber each night.
Who is most at risk?
Recent statistics suggest that the majority of drowsy driving crashes in the United States involve specific high-risk populations, including:
- Long haul truck drivers
- Adult males age 18-26
- Night shift workers
- Jet lagged business travelers
- People with undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea
More than 20 percent of all fatal auto crashes involve drivers who are fatigued. Officials reiterate that there is no substitute for a good night’s rest and that maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is the best way to prevent crashes caused by drowsiness/sleep deprivation.
Before getting behind the wheel, take a moment to assess the following, which can seriously increase your chances of being in an accident:
- You are currently taking sedative medications such as antihistamines
- You have been working more than 60 hours a week
- Your normal sleep cycle has been disrupted
- You find yourself yawning frequently
- You are unable to concentrate
- You find yourself nodding off
- You have been getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night
- You recently switched shifts at your job and are working at night