Everyone knows that they should pull over when they begin to feel drowsy when driving, but what happens when drowsiness is almost a constant state? For many who don’t get the amount of good, restful sleep they need each night, this is an everyday occurrence, and research shows that these poor sleepers are much more likely to be involved in vehicle crashes than their well-rested counterparts.
According to a recent study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drowsy drivers are considerably more common than many motorists think. In fact, data indicates that around 33% of drivers ages 19-24 reported that they had gotten behind the wheel while very tired.
At the same time, around 95% of all drivers involved in the research admitted that they know that driving in this condition is dangerous, and poses a threat to other drivers and themselves. If this is the case, why do so many people still get behind the wheel? For many, the reason is simple – when they get poor sleep, there is little choice but to do so.
Poor Sleep and Driving
Those who get fewer than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night may be in a state of nearly constant drowsiness, and when the demands of work and family are thrown into the mix, it isn’t always possible to wait until they are more awake before hopping behind the wheel. When you consider that there are approximately 70 million people in the US that have sleep disorders, or get poor sleep each night, it becomes easy to see why drowsy driving is such a dangerous problem.
If you are still not convinced, all it takes is a bit of consideration of the following estimates:
- National Highway Transportation Safety Administration – Attributes around 100,000 accidents each year to drowsy drivers.
- Institute of Medicine – Estimates that drivers who are drowsy are responsible for around one million auto crashes each year.
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety – Research shows that sleepy drivers are responsible for around 17% of all fatalities that occur on US roads each year.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
While most people would never consider getting behind the wheel after drinking, they have less qualms doing so when drowsy. However, research indicates that the impairments in motor skills, cognitive functions, and reaction times that occur when drowsy are equivalent to driving under the influence of alcohol.
When you’re tired, you just don’t have the same reaction times as you do when well-rested, and this includes recognizing when you are in danger of falling asleep. Many drivers may not even notice that they are close to nodding off, and that’s when drivers truly become impaired.
Chronic Sleep Deprivation
Many people suffer from sleep deprivation on occasion, but there are also those that suffer from serious sleep disorders as well. These drivers, such as those who suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia, have a much greater risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Another risk factor is those who require sleeping medications to get their Zs at night, as these are also attributed to a greater number of accidents than those that get enough sleep on their own.
The bottom line is that you need to make sure you are getting plenty of sleep to ensure you are safe when driving. The obvious recommendation is to make sure you get the recommended amount of sleep each night, especially if you know you will be driving for long periods. However, if that isn’t possible, and you know you are having problems getting enough rest, contact your doctor. Getting treatment for your poor sleep will keep you and everyone else on the road with you safer.