Everyone knows just how dangerous it is to drink and drive, and there’s a growing awareness that distracted driving – such as driving while texting – can be equally dangerous. Less commonly discussed, though, is drowsy driving or driving while tired, and it’s easy to ignore. After all, everyone gets tired, but most people assume that driving is sufficiently stimulating to get them to their destination. And, of course, everyone has places to be and schedules to maintain, but it’s time we pay attention to this serious road risk.
Drowsy Driving: What We Know
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 795 people died in drowsy driving accidents in 2017, and this is surprisingly few when we consider that 1 in 25 adult drivers has fallen asleep behind the wheel in the last 30 days. The fact is, it can happen to anyone, from commuting workers to truck drivers keeping long hours and those with untreated sleep conditions like apnea and narcolepsy.
Even when drowsy driving events aren’t fatal, exhaustion can be dangerous. Tired drivers suffer from impaired judgment, have a slower reaction time, and fatigue generally reduces your ability to pay attention to the road. Drowsy drivers may also miss exits, fail to signal, and drift out of their lane, putting other drivers at risk.
Drowsy Driving And Negligence
Typically, drowsy driving isn’t considered a major form of negligence because it isn’t a choice. Yes, drivers may be aware they’re tired, but most can’t tell in advance that they will be impaired and it’s difficult to prove whether someone was asleep at the time of an accident. In some states, the law manages this problem by requiring proof that the driver at fault was awake for 24 hours prior to the crash. They may also look for other signs of negligence at the scene, such as skid marks or evidence that the driver veered into oncoming traffic.
One group that can more easily be found negligent in drowsy driving accidents are commercial vehicle operators and their employers. Drivers are often expected to cover an unrealistic distance, and there are typically clear records indicating how far these drivers have traveled, how long they have been driving, and when they might have had opportunities to sleep. There’s even a growing technology sector committed to determining whether truck drivers are dangerously drowsy.
Preventing Drowsy Driving
Preventing drowsy driving will be an uphill battle, but with proper education and efforts to raise awareness, it can be done. The National Sleep Foundation even sponsors an annual Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, and encourages people to pledge their support to ending this practice.
Another key aspect of preventing distracted driving is ensuring that people properly treat conditions that cause excessive drowsiness, particularly daytime drowsiness. For those with sleep apnea, this may include weight loss and use of a CPAP machine, while those with narcolepsy can benefit from stimulant medications. And, of course, anyone who needs to drive long distances should make time for adequate rest and pull over if they notice any signs of sleepiness, such as yawning and excessive blinking.
We know that sleep deprivation can cause impairments as serious as driving while drunk, yet most people fail to take the issue as seriously. At the end of the day, though, if you wouldn’t drive drunk, don’t drive when sleep deprived either. Anywhere you’re going can wait until you’re able to travel there safely.