Fatigued driving may not make as many headlines as something like drunk driving, but it can have ramifications that are just as serious. Tired drivers, and especially young drivers, tend to cause far more accidents than those who feel rested and alert behind the wheel.
One study, which found that as many as 30% of car accidents happened in part due to fatigue, noted that six hours was an important cutoff. Drivers who got more sleep than that tended to be much safer, while drivers who admitted to fewer than six hours of sleep caused a vastly higher number of accidents.
Falling asleep at the wheel
Fatigue causes accidents in a few different ways, with one of the most dramatic being when a driver falls asleep at the wheel. They may battle the feeling of fatigue for miles, perhaps even nodding off and snapping back awake, before finally falling asleep for good. All it takes is a second or two for a car to leave the roadway, drift into the oncoming lanes, run a stop sign or cause a crash in some other manner.
Reduced reaction times
Another issue with fatigued driving is something you’ve probably experienced in other areas when you’re too tired: Your reaction times get worse. You can’t react quickly, everything feels delayed, and you struggle to process information from outside sources. A tired driver may not actually fall asleep behind the wheel, but failing to react to conditions around them on the road can still cause a crash. In this way, it is similar to drunk driving.
Getting up early
There is a clear risk of fatigued driving for those who stay up late, such as a truck driver who stays on the road long after dark to meet a deadline. But the reason that this issue often impacts young people could also have to do with getting up early.
Teens have early start times for their classes at school. They feel pressure to get up, get ready and get to class on time. If a teen’s parents feel like they have to “drag them out of bed,” is it wise to put that same teen behind the wheel and send them to school 10 minutes later? How many accidents happen because people — and this also happens to adults on the way to work — force themselves to drive when they’re in no condition to do so?
Avoiding drowsy driving means more than just getting at least six hours of sleep a night, but that’s a start. Even so, you could get hit and injured by another tired driver. If so, you need to make sure you know what legal options you have.