We all know the dangers of texting and driving or drinking and driving. But did you know driving sleepy also increases your risk of being involved in an accident?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in every 25 adults has fallen asleep at the wheel in the last month. Obviously falling asleep at the wheel can be deadly. But even if you manage to stay awake, driving when you’re tired is dangerous.
When you’re sleepy, you tend to be less alert. You’re also more likely to make poor decisions, such as driving too fast or not leaving enough distance between you and the driver in front of you. Driving sleepy also may mean your reaction time is decreased. If you need to slam on the breaks suddenly, even a second delay can be the difference between avoiding an accident and crashing.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving while sleepy was thought to be the cause of over 72,000 car accidents, which resulted in over 800 fatalities in 2013. But that number may even be higher. It can be difficult for crash investigators to know if the driver was too sleepy to drive. Accidents where drowsiness played a role are sometimes attributed to other factors.
Of course, anyone can be at risk for driving drowsy. But certain factors increase a person’s chances of becoming sleepy behind the wheel. For instance, if you work overnight, you might be tired when you drive home in the morning. Taking certain medications that cause drowsiness and having an untreated sleep disorder also increases your risk. People who drive long distances, such as truck drivers, are also at a higher risk of driving drowsy.
According to UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, young male drivers are at risk of driving when they are too tired. That may be because young men tend to make certain choices, such as pulling an all-nighter or having a few alcoholic drinks, that increases drowsiness. They may also be less likely to realize they are too tired to drive.
Even if you don’t have specific risk factors for driving drowsy, it can happen to anyone. Recognizing the signs that you’re too tired to drive can be lifesaving. For example, if you are having trouble keeping your eyes open or catch yourself yawning frequently, it might be time to pull over.
Additional signs you might be too sleepy to keep driving include drifting into another lane and missing road signs. Also, if you suddenly find yourself several miles down the road and don’t remember driving it, it might be due to fatigue.
There are several things you can do to prevent driving when you’re sleepy. Consider the following suggestions:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowsy Driving; Asleep at the Wheel. https://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdrowsydriving/ Retrieved January 2017
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drowsy Driving. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving Retrieved January 2017
UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. Drowsy Driving. http://sleepcenter.ucla.edu/drowsy-driving Retrieved January 2017
Author: MaryAnn DePietro, CRT is a medical writer and licensed respiratory therapist with over a decade of clinical experience.
© 2020 American Sleep Association.