The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted numerous studies of drowsy driving over the last ten years, and the conclusion seems inescapable: Drivers who have not gotten enough sleep can be as dangerous as those driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. NHTSA has determined that after a driver has been awake for 17 hours, his or her motor skills are affected similarly to a driver with a BAC of approximately 0.05%. This is the equivalent of a male weighing about 150 pounds drinking approximately 3 Margaritas over a two hour period!
In California, the Highway Patrol reported that in 2010, sleepy driving accounted for more than 3,600 accidents, 2000 injuries, and 32 fatalities. The NHTSA has determined that on an annual basis, falling asleep while driving leads to 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and more than 100,000 accidents. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60% of adult drivers acknowledge having driving while feeling sleepy, (totaling 168 million people!), and more than a third of those drivers have fallen asleep.
Police officers look for these telltale clues to find drowsy drivers;
• Slow driving;
• Speeding up and slowing down;
• Driving onto the shoulder;
• Driving across lanes;
• Straddling lanes;
• Running red lights.
A review of this list clearly shows that the patterns of sleepy drivers are virtually identical to drivers who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. The problem is exacerbated this time of year with drivers on extended journeys for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, who often leave early in the morning or late at night to avoid heavy traffic. Rolling down windows, turning up the radio or having a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage will not cause a drowsy driver to wake up, despite the myths about these techniques. Effective means of combating sleepy driving, if there are no passengers to share the driving responsibility, are to take a 15-30 minute nap, (which is actually better than a nap of 1-2 hours for changing brain chemistry), or to stretch their legs on a regular basis.
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