Driving while drowsy is a formula for disaster. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that each year 100,000 crashes are reported to police nationally in which drowsy driving or driver fatigue is a contributing factor. NHTSA estimates those crashes result in 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries.
In annual polls conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), half of Americans consistently report that they have driven drowsy and about 20 percent admit that they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel in the previous year.
According to the National Safety Council, driving while drowsy is similar to driving under influence of alcohol:
- Drivers’ reaction times, awareness of hazards and ability to sustain attention all worsen the drowsier the driver is.
- Driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% – the U.S. legal limit.
- You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued.
While falling asleep at the wheel is the most obvious example, drowsy driving can be as simple as not paying attention while driving. Warning signs of drowsy driving include difficulty keeping one’s eyes open, repeated yawning, wandering or disconnected thoughts, drifting from the driving lane, and failure to remember the last few miles driven.
The common strategies for avoiding drowsy driving, such as opening a window, turning on the air conditioning or playing loud music, will not overcome fatigue, and caffeine offers only a short-term increase in driver alertness.
The only effective countermeasure for drowsiness is to find a safe place to pull over for a rest or to sleep for the night. Bringing a passenger on long trips to provide company and share driving responsibilities is a good idea.