While drunk driving and distracted driving are generally seen as dangerous behaviors that risk lives, another kind of dangerous behavior — drowsy driving — doesn’t get as much attention. Still, high risks are associated with drowsiness behind the wheel.
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being awake for 18 consecutive hours can result in cognitive impairment similar to that of a person whose blood-alcohol content (BAC) is .05 percent. Being awake for 24 hours is like having a BAC of .10 percent, which is over the legal limit for driving.
The CDC also indicates who might be more likely to drive while sleepy:
- Drivers who haven’t sought treatment for sleep disorders
- Drivers who work long shifts or night shifts
- Drivers who use sedatives
- Commercial truck drivers
In general, drivers who don’t get enough sleep pose a risk of harming themselves or others. Drowsy driving slows one’s reaction time, hinders one’s ability to make quick decisions and makes one less attentive. Alertness, attention and decision-making are all crucial aspects of operating a motor vehicle, yet many people still think drowsy driving is acceptable.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has estimated that drowsy driving is a factor in 2 percent of injurious auto accidents and 2.5 percent of fatal crashes. Those estimates are likely low, however, as proving that sleepy driving resulted in an accident can be difficult. It has been estimated that each year drowsy drivers cause as many as 6,000 fatal accidents.
The bottom line is that drivers, including truck drivers on long trips, should have enough rest before getting behind the wheel. Experts say that adults should get at least seven hours of sleep each day, and adolescents should get at least nine hours.
The CDC recommends that drivers pull over at a safe place and take a nap or change drivers at the first sign of drowsiness.
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