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Drowsy Driving and Motor Vehicle Accidents: Staying Safe

The National Sleep Foundation reports that over 60% of adult drivers will get behind the wheel while they are drowsy. That is about 168 million people who have reported driving drowsy within the past year. Of those, roughly one-third have actually fallen asleep or nodded off while driving. Approximately 11 million drivers admit that they have had an accident or a near-accident because they were too tired to drive.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are at least 100,000 motor vehicle crashes that occur every year because of drowsy drivers. These accidents result in roughly 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries annually. NHTSA also estimates that property damage related to these accidents likely accounts for approximately $12.5 billion in losses.

NHTSA’s estimates are likely just a small portion of accidents that actually occur because of drowsy driving. Sleepy drivers are impossible to test, and statistics are mostly based on self-reporting.

Drowsiness and Impaired Performance

Even when you attempt to avoid sleep through dietary stimulants or physical activity, when you get behind the wheel, you are more likely to become drowsy simply due to the repetitive nature of driving. Any time you sit still, get bored, or become lax on your coping mechanisms, sleepiness can take over quickly.

Driving while sleepy is extremely dangerous because you just do not function as well when you are tired. There are three reasons that your function is impaired while you are tired.

  1. You have a slower reaction time when you are drowsy. Even those who are moderately sleepy will have slower reaction times while driving. This impaired response time can mean the difference between avoiding a collision and being involved in a fatal crash. Even small delays have significant effects on crash risk, especially when you are traveling at higher speeds.
  2. Your vigilance is reduced. You simply do not pay attention to those around you as well when you are tired. Attention-based task performance declines when you are drowsy.This can also increase reaction time and the likelihood that you do not respond to outside stimuli at all.
  3. You have deficits in information processing. Processing and integrating information takes longer when you are tired. The accuracy of your short term memory will also decrease. Performance as a whole will decline as wellThe primary cause of sleepiness is a lack of sleep. Longer sleep duration will combat the impaired function associated with fewer hours of sleep. However, some medications, chronic health conditions, and alcohol can also increase drowsiness levels as well.

Avoiding Driving Drowsy: Play It Safe

If you can avoid driving drowsy, you should. Making sure that you get plenty of rest when you need it is the best way to ensure that you are not driving while you are tired. However, getting enough sleep is not always realistically possible. To help deal with problems associated with drowsy driving, you can pull off the road for a quick cat nap or switch drivers, if possible.

Studies indicate that doing things like turning up the radio or rolling the window down may help for a short time, but they are not a long-term solution to drowsy driving. Caffeine and sugar can provide a short-term solution as well, but frequent use can result in long-term health consequences.

If you have been involved in an accident with a drowsy driver, you likely have legal options. Contact Noland Law Firm to discuss your potential claim.

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