While it can be difficult to spot, drowsy driving may be just as common as distracted driving. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of adult drivers say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year. What's more, 1/3 of them report falling asleep at the wheel at least once a month. Here's what you need to know about this commonly misunderstood issue, what you can do to prevent it within your family of drivers, and what the potential consequences could be for drowsy driving.
What is drowsy driving?
Drowsy driving occurs when you operate a vehicle without an adequate amount of sleep. It's also called tired driving or fatigued driving. Like driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, drowsy driving is a form of impaired driving. While extreme cases may result in the driver falling asleep at the wheel, there are many other issues at hand too. Sleepiness can impair a driver's alertness, attention, reaction time, judgement, and decision-making, and severely increase their chances of crashing. A solid definition of drowsy driving tends to depend on how you define feelings like "sleepy," "tired," or "exhausted."
What are the signs of drowsy driving?
If you, a friend, or a family member is experiencing one of the following symptoms while driving, it may be time to stop and rest. The following signs could end up having dangerous consequences, according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Heavy eyelids, frequent blinking
- Daydreaming and disconnected thoughts
- Missed exits or traffic signals
- Constant yawning or rubbing eyes
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from lane to lane, hitting a shoulder rumble strip
- Feeling restless or irritable
Is drowsy driving a big problem?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the answer is a definite "Yes." Police cited drowsy driving in at least 72,000 crashes from 2009 through 2013, reports NHTSA, and these accidents resulted in 41,000 injuries and 800 deaths. These figures, however, are likely significantly underestimating the issue, they note. Crash investigators do their best to look for clues that fatigue may have contributed to driver error, but these clues aren't always clear.
As researchers and law enforcement officers develop new ways to identify crashes related to drowsy-driving, we may begin to see that the issue is much more widespread than initially imagined. The 2009 Massachusetts Special Commission on Drowsy Driving, for instance, used a different research method and estimated that there could be as many as 1.2 million crashes, 8,000 lives lost, and 500,000 injuries due to drowsy driving each year.
How can I prevent drowsy driving?
The best way to prevent drowsy driving? Get enough rest on a regular basis. Sleep is the only preventative measure against the dangers of drowsy driving, says the NHTSA. Do your best to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, especially before a long road trip. Avoid drinking alcohol before driving and if you take medications that tend to make you feel sleepy, ask a friend or family member to drive or opt for public transportation. If you must drive, avoid the road during "peak sleepiness periods," which are midnight to 6 a.m. and in the late afternoon.
"Drowsy driving is more pervasive than we recognize, more commonplace and we're all guilty of it," said Pam Fischer, a former New Jersey highway safety official. "And we have the ability to correct it. The fix is simple: Get more sleep," he told USA Today.
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*Emergency Protection Plans are separate products not all of which are insurance and each is administered through NationSafeDriver, Boca Raton, FL. Auto protection plan not available in MO.