Driving While Sleepy

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December 13, 2012
Edward Smith

Driving while sleepy can be very dangerous and causes 5,500 driving tests in the U.S. alone each year. Driving while sleepy can decrease reaction times while driving, which can increase the risk of a crash. Driving while sleepy is, in fact, more dangerous than anyone thought, according to a recent study from the AAA Foundation of Traffic Study. They looked at crash data from 1999-2008 and found that 17 percent of all fatal car crashes came when a driver was drowsy or sleepy behind the wheel.

In addition, AAA discovered that 41 percent of drivers admitted to having fallen asleep behind the wheel, and 10 percent admitted to falling behind the wheel within the last year. Being tired, according to AAA, means you are just as dangerous as if you were intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. The driver’s judgment is impaired, along with slower reaction times.

Results from the foundation’s study coincide with the start of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week by the National Sleep Foundation, which has been pushing for better drowsy-driving awareness and education since 1991.

Staying awake for 24 hours can leave a person as impaired as someone with a 0.1 alcohol level — the equivalent of consuming six drinks. Twenty-five percent of drivers surveyed said they have driven in the last month despite being so tired that they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

Research has shown that when people are sleepy, chemicals like melatonin are released from the brain, and when you’re forced to stay awake, the brain must do extra work, leaving the person in a terrible fog. People think they can handle being tired, but their impairment is more significant than they think. This is when the accidents and fatalities occur. Coordination is decreased, and judgment is poor.

As a result of their study, AAA came up with several tips to avoid having an accident while on the road in a sleepy condition. They recommended that a person on a long trip get at least six hours of sleep before getting behind the wheel. In addition, it was decided that people should travel only when they are usually awake, such as in daylight. If you are on a long trip, you should take a break every two hours or every 100 miles to walk around and increase your alertness. You should consider drinking a caffeinated beverage and allowing that beverage at least thirty minutes to take effect before driving. Many caffeinated beverages wear off when 4-6 hours have passed, so you don’t experience a mental crash when the caffeine wears off. Make sure you travel with a passenger who is awake and take turns with driving duties.

Driving while sleepy is almost as big a problem as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In both situations, the driver thinks he or she can handle driving, a sign of their lack of judgment.