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The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

When we think of impaired or distracted driving, we often think about people who drive while drinking, texting or under the influence of drugs. However, driving while feeling drowsy is just as dangerous. And unlike other driving impairments, feeling drowsy behind the wheel is something that can happen to anyone. According to the American Sleep Foundation, about 20% of drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. In the US, about 800 people died from a drowsy-driving related accidents in 2017 and about 91000 accidents were caused. So not only is drowsy driving common, but it can be fatal.

Drowsiness and fatigue occurs when our body hasn’t been given enough rest. We do our best to get through our daily routines even if we are sleep deprived, but the effects of sleep deprivation will eventually begin to affect our cognitive functions. To be a safe driver, a person needs to be visually focused, have manual control, and normal cognitive function. Anything that impairs these elements are dangerous distractions. A cognitive distraction causes the driver to lose the ability to focus. Drowsy driving being a cognitive distraction falls under the same category as someone who drinks or is under the influence of drugs while driving. Even if the person doesn’t actually fall asleep at the wheel, being drowsy is enough for them to lose their ability to drive safely.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

To prevent drowsy driving, there are a few circumstances to be aware of and to prepare for. First, if you are driving very late at night, you are at a higher risk of getting drowsy. Most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m. Even if you’ve had an extra cup of coffee, our body has a circadian rhythm (an internal clock) that tells us when it’s time to sleep. Secondly, often times these kinds of accidents occur when the driver is alone. Finally, these accidents frequently occur on long rural roads and highways.

Having said all of that, here are the best things to do to prevent these kinds of accidents:

  1. Get enough sleep. This goes without saying, but this is main reason why these types of accidents happen. Between 7 and 8 hours of sleep is a healthy amount for adults. Especially if you know you are going on a long drive, make sure you are well rested.
  2. If you find you feel sleep-deprived on a regular basis, go see a doctor. Many people have sleeping disorders (such as sleep apnea) that are untreated.
  3. Avoid drinking alcohol. Even if you are not intoxicated, alcohol is a depressant, and can make you sleepy.
  4. Try not to drive alone for long distances. A passenger can keep you company, and therefore help you remain alert. They can also notice if you are beginning to show signs of drowsiness and can take turns driving.
  5. Try to avoid driving long distances overnight. If a road trip cannot be made in a day, consider finding a place to rest overnight.
  6. Check your prescriptions and medications to see if they can cause drowsiness. Do not drive when taking such medications.
  7. Drink coffee or energy drinks for short term alertness. This will not permanently stop the effects of serious sleep deprivation, but it can help mild tiredness.
  8. Especially if you are driving alone during late night hours, be alert to signs of drowsiness. Many highways have rumble strips to alert drivers when they are swerving over lanes.

If you start to get sleepy while you’re driving, drink one to two cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place, such as a lighted, designated rest stop. This has been shown to increase alertness in scientific studies, but only for short time periods. Opening the windows or playing loud music is not very effective. Resting is the only way to truly combat drowsiness.

About the Author

Steven Palermo is the managing partner for Palermo Law, Long Island’s Personal Injury Law Firm. He has been helping people receive compensation for their injuries for over 21 years. He focuses on cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, construction accidents and slip and fall injuries.

His book The Ultimate Guide to Handling New York Car Accident Claims details the ins and outs of a car accident claim in a simple, easy-to-read manner.