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Is Drowsy Driving Just as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?

While most people are aware that drunk driving kills, not everyone is as cautious about driving while drowsy. As many as one in three US adults admits to getting behind the wheel while feeling tired. With this blasé attitude towards drowsy driving, it’s tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s not dangerous to drive while tired.

How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Your Driving

Driving while tired can be somewhat similar to driving drunk. You’ll have trouble focusing on the road, your reaction time will be slower, and you’ll have trouble making rational decisions. If you start to nod off, it means that you won’t see what’s in front of you and may not be able to brake or swerve.

When Drowsy Driving Causes Accidents

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that there was little to no difference between driving drunk or driving tired. Both doubled the risk of causing an accident. A similar study in the Netherlands found that prolonged nighttime driving can also cause drowsiness, resulting in poor concentration and coordination. Drowsy driving leads to thousands of accidents every year:

  • Tired drivers are estimated to be involved in around a fifth of fatal crashes
  • Drivers with less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep are up to 11.5 times more likely to get in an accident
  • An estimated 1 in 25 drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel in the past month
  • California has seen an increase in the incidence of drowsy driving accidents from 4,693 collisions in 2014 to more than 5,500 in 2015

The Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving

If you’re driving, particularly after a long day or after a poor night’s sleep, make sure to look out for signs that you’re getting tired. Passengers can also help watch out for common signs of a drowsy driver:

  • Heavy Eyelids
  • Trouble focusing
  • Frequent yawning or blinking
  • Head bobbing
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Difficulty remembering things in the short-term

How You Can Avoid Drowsy Driving

If you notice yourself starting to drift off, don’t force yourself to keep driving. Pull over somewhere safe and assess the situation. How far are you from your destination? Are you close to any lodgings or overnight accommodations? Is the area safe? If you’re feeling tired, there are several things that you can do to ensure that you reach your destination safely:

  • Take a nap: A half-hour nap can rejuvenate you enough to restore your focus, but you’ll still need a full seven to nine hours of sleep later.
  • Switch drivers: If you’re with another driver, trade off at the wheel so that you’re able to take naps.
  • Stay in a hotel: While this isn’t always possible, staying overnight in a hotel and getting a good night’s sleep is the best way to prevent drowsy driving during a road trip.
  • Grab a coffee: Although caffeine will give you a short burst of concentration, you shouldn’t rely on it for the most part. Coffee is best for very short trips, or for when you’re close to your destination.

Credit: Jenny Holt.

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