Despite increased penalties and widespread awareness campaigns about the risks of driving while drunk, texting and speeding, not everyone gets the message. More and more travelers become victims of these negligent and reckless drivers, losing loved ones in accidents or suffering life-changing injuries. While these accidents occur because of something another driver did, many accidents also occur because of something another driver failed to do — get enough sleep.
Sleep is a physical need so powerful it can overcome the need for food or even survival. Statistics show that 91,000 motor vehicle accidents in a single year involved a drowsy driver. One survey revealed that more than half of drivers admit they get behind the wheel when they feel drowsy, and this is a recipe for disaster.
Sleep-deprived drivers vs. drunk drivers
A driver who has worked a long shift, stayed up too late the night before or slept poorly might not be in the best condition to drive. You probably know how it feels when sleep overwhelms you. Your eyelids feel heavy, your mind drifts and you can’t focus on the TV show you are watching or the conversation your spouse is trying to have with you. These symptoms don’t go away just because someone is driving. In fact, recent studies compare the dangers of drowsy driving with those of drunk driving, including:
- Slow reaction times
- Difficulty making decisions
- Poor vision and depth perception
- Loss of ability to judge how fast they are driving
- Reduced hand-eye coordination
Of course, there is also the chance that a drowsy driver will fall asleep at the wheel. About 20% of drivers surveyed admit this has happened to them. Drivers who sleep fewer than the recommended six to seven hours a night have a much higher chance of being involved in an accident. Those who sleep four hours or less experience impairment equivalent to a .08 blood alcohol concentration — the legal limit in Texas.
Stay alert for danger
You may do your best to remain awake and alert while driving, but not every driver is so diligent. With so many people driving in a state of sleep deprivation, it is possible that more accidents are the result of drowsy driving than the statistics report.
Tricks like opening the window, playing loud music or drinking caffeine are not effective. The only fix that will keep you and others safe on the roads is for every driver to put safety first and drive only when they are alert enough to be behind the wheel.