Drowsy Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving?

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Most American drivers are well aware of the dangers posed by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) - part of the reason for that is that DUI is a crime in all 50 states, and criminal penalties for those convicted of DUI are getting steeper and steeper.

But alcohol and drugs aren't the only things that can impair a driver's ability to safely operate a vehicle. The Toledo Blade and Safety.com report that drowsy driving, or driving without getting adequate sleep, can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

In a country where adults are pulled by the demands of jobs, families, health and more, sleep is often the first "luxury" to be dropped when people need to squeeze more activities in their calendars. Depriving the body of quality rest hours, though, could have deadly consequences.

Sources indicate that going 18 hours without sleep leads to a level impairment equal to that of someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08%, the legal limit nationwide.

Statistics from the National Highway Safety Administration suggest that drowsy drivers cause about 100,000 accidents each year, and are responsible for about 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in losses. Unfortunately, these numbers are only estimates.

Part of the problem of drowsy driving is that there's no way to test for it - if you've been drinking alcohol, police can use a breathalyzer test to measure the concentration of alcohol on your breath, which can help determine your level of impairment. But if you haven't slept enough lately, that won't show up on any roadside test police can administer.

Like drunkenness, reports indicate that sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and therefore increases the risk that a tired driver will cause an accident.

Unlike DUIs, though, drowsy driving can be impacted by a number of factors, including medical conditions a driver has, medications a driver's taking, job demands and amount of sleep a driver gets. While certain lifestyle factors (like how long your shift at work is) may be non-negotiable, experts suggest taking precautions to guard against driving while tired, especially if you're planning on taking a long trip. Here's what to do to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get a full night's sleep the night before leaving - for most people, that means 8-10 hours of uninterrupted slumber.
  • Take breaks on the road. Some experts suggest allowing for 15-minute breaks for every two hours of driving.
  • If possible, alternate drivers to give everyone a chance to rest.
  • Drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages.

If you get on the road and feel yourself drifting off, researchers have found the following to be helpful: pull over somewhere safe, drink a cup of coffee and take a 15-20 minute nap while the caffeine kicks in.

Remember: driver impairment doesn't always come in a bottle. Be cautious whenever you operate a vehicle.


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