Drowsy driving still remains one of the most dangerous situations a driver can get into while on the road, yet it receives much less attention than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol does. For many motorists, fatigue doesn’t raise much concern, but studies show it can be an equally dangerous form of impaired driving.
The Dangers of Drowsy Driving
Feeling tired during your early morning commute or while getting home late at night seems natural given the odd hours. Unfortunately, that routine can often lead to complacency about the fatigue. A recent study in the US by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety demonstrated that most drivers consider fatigued driving to be dangerous, yet almost a third admitted to doing so anyway.
Studies in the UK show that a fifth of all accidents are fatigue-related, while the AAA Study found the percentage in the US to be around 10%. A US federal study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) put the percentage at roughly 2.5%.
The difficulty of measuring what constitutes drowsy driving or proving it was responsible for an incident explains why these numbers vary. Most researchers, regardless of their results, believe the reality is much worse. In the US, the reported numbers indicate over 6,000 deaths per year related to drowsy driving, and even higher numbers for resulting auto accident injuries.
Drowsy driving reduces alertness, slows reaction times, and lowers a drivers ability to make decisions. Staying awake for more than 18 hours produces the same type of reactions as a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05% After 24 hours without sleep, the number doubles to 0.10%.
The Signs of Fatigue
Fatigue causes the operator to drive distractedly and, in the worse case scenario, literally fall asleep. Most people know their individual warning signs that they are too tired, meaning accidents are completely preventable. The symptoms of fatigue include:
- lack of focus on driving
- drifting in and out of a lane
- excessive yawning and blinking
- inability to remember the last few miles driven
How To Remain Alert
When you feel sleepy at the wheel, you can take steps to improve your wakefulness.
- The best way to combat fatigue is to pull over and take a nap at the nearest rest stop or safest place off the road that is not in a breakdown lane.
- If you are going on a long trip, plan on stopping every two hours and getting out of the car. Highway hypnosis can reduce alertness, so breaking up the trip can help.
- Let a passenger drive for a while. Don’t be overly proud or controlling about keeping the wheel.
If you are on a long stretch of road or unable to pull over soon, a few tips can provide a short-term solution:
- Opening and closing the windows to change the air in the car can provoke brief alertness
- Drinking beverages with at least 150 mg caffeine in them
- Periodically raising and lowering the volume of the radio
- Engaging in conversation with passengers
It’s important to note that all of these activities only have a brief effect. The best solution to drowsy driving is to pull over and nap. Better yet, don’t get in the car in the first place if you’ve had fewer than five or six hours of sleep.