According to a recent AAA survey, nearly a third of Americans admitted driving at least once in the previous month when they were so sleepy they could barely keep their eyes open. Yet there is no question that sleepy driving is dangerous.
Being awake for 24 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10 -- higher than the legal limit in most states of 0.08. It takes less sleep deprivation than that to increase your danger behind the wheel, however. Missing just a few hours of sleep can seriously impair your skills and attention.
It's hard to get a concrete number of accidents caused by drowsy driving. There is no breathalyzer-like test for sleepiness. However, a 2018 study by AAA estimated that 9.5 percent of all accidents are caused by drowsy drivers.
Symptoms of dangerous drowsiness include:
- Trouble keeping your eyes open; droopy eyelids; blinking; yawning frequently
- Weaving within your lane, drifting out of your lane, or hitting the rumble strip on the edge of the roadway
- A sudden realization that you don't remember what happened in the last few minutes or miles
- Missing your exit or failing to notice other road signs
What could be contributing to sleepiness on the road?
Our culture may contribute. Many people feel they have more to accomplish each day than can be fit into 16 hours. They may cut into their recommended sleep time and then compensate by using caffeine, energy drinks or other stimulants. Unfortunately, these can negatively affect your sleep in the long term.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult between 18 and 64 needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers between 14 and 17 should be getting 8 to 10 hours each night.
Another factor could be the use of sleep aids. According to a nationally representative Consumer Reports survey in 2018, 20 percent of Americans who take prescription sleep aids admit to having driven within 7 hours of taking the medication. Most sleep aids' directions say not to take the medication unless you have 7-8 hours to devote to sleep.
Other medications can make you drowsy or impair you to the point that you are a danger on the road. Major categories of these drugs include antihistamines, blood pressure medications, muscle relaxers and some antidepressants and anxiety medications. These drugs can also interact to increase the drowsy or dizzy effect.
Even if you're getting enough sleep each night, you may still find yourself tired if you have an untreated health condition that affects your sleep. A common one is obstructive sleep apnea, where you stop breathing numerous times in the night. If you are overweight or your partner complains that you snore, you should consider being evaluated for sleep apnea.
Tips for safer driving when you're tired
We've all heard some tips for staying awake while driving -- some helpful and some not.
What doesn't work? According to Consumer Reports, studies have shown that these two tricks are old wives' tales:
- Cold air from the windows or air conditioner won't keep you awake.
- Turning up the radio will not dispel drowsiness.
What does work? Caffeine, driving with a companion and taking breaks when you notice drowsiness. Ideally, do not try to stay awake when you're sleepy. Take a break to walk around and grab a coffee -- or nap in your car for 20 minutes.
A drowsy driver is a dangerous driver. Don't let other considerations get in the way of proper sleep or breaks. And, if you are injured by a drowsy driver, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for an evaluation of your case.