How dangerous is drowsy driving? As risky as operating a vehicle while under the influence

November 4, 2020 | 10:18 am


How dangerous is drowsy driving?

Driving on less than 5 hours of sleep is similar to driving over the legal limit for alcohol. In fact, you are 3 times more likely to be in a vehicle crash if you are fatigued, which is why drowsy driving is responsible for some 300,000 crashes every year in the United States, and up to 6,400 deaths per year, according to National Sleep Foundation.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles — for Drowsy Driving Prevention Week — is raising awareness of the dangers of driving while drowsy, and educating drivers on sleep safety in an effort to reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes and to ultimately save lives.

And with the end of Daylight Saving Time, the time change can disrupt sleep patterns causing people to feel drowsy.

“Driving while you are tired or drowsy is risky and can have the same dangerous consequences. These are facts: it impairs driving performance and reaction time,” said Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorney and senior partner Matthew Clark. “Please make sleep a priority, and only drive when alert. Think of your safety and your passengers, but also of the safety of others on the road.”

Some groups have been identified as most vulnerable to drowsy driving including commercial drivers, particularly tractor trailer, tour bus and public transit drivers; people who work long hours or late-night shifts; people with sleep disorders; new parents or caregivers of infants and young children; young and newer drivers; and college and high school students. For example, drowsy driving contributed to 91,000 police-reported crashes and nearly 800 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Busy interstates accounted for the most sleep-related driving deaths compared to other roadways. Utility vehicles were involved in the highest percentage of fatal sleepy-driver accidents with pickup trucks and vans next on the list. Dawn light and foggy skies contributed the most to fatal sleep-related accidents, according to AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

A study by SleepJunkie, a website focused on improving sleeping habits, found that drowsy driving-related roadway fatalities spike in the early morning hours, with 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., marking the deadliest span. The hours just before and after — 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. — were the second and third most fatal times.

Before you drive, consider if you are:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued. Six hours of sleep or less triples your risk.
  • Suffering from sleep loss (insomnia) or poor quality sleep.
  • Driving long distances without proper rest breaks.
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep.
  • Taking sedating medications such as antidepressants, cold tablets or antihistamines.
  • Working more than 60 hours a week. This increases your risk of crashing by 40 percent.
  • Working more than one job and your main job involves shift work.
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol.
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark or boring road.

The warning signs of drowsy driving include repeated yawning, struggling to keep one’s eyes open and focused, forgetting the last few miles driven, tailgating or missing traffic signals, and swerving or drifting between lanes of traffic.

Here is what you can do to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get enough sleep before you drive. It’s recommended adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per day.
  • If you’re planning a long road trip, make sure you plan properly for rest stops — a break every 100 miles or every two hours on the road is suggested.
  • Use the buddy system to keep you awake and share driving duties.
  • Also, try to travel during times you are normally awake.
  • If you have been up for 24 hours or more, do not drive. Period.
  • Drink caffeine if you feel sleepy, and see how you feel first before getting behind the wheel.
  • Avoid alcohol and medication that may cause drowsiness or have side effects.
  • If you feel too sleepy, find someplace safe to take a nap or sleep, or stay the night somewhere. After, you’ll feel energized and ready to drive!

Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death lawsuit in which a driver fell asleep at wheel after working a 12-hour shift, jumped a curb and struck a jogger as he ran on the sidewalk. The jogger was also a husband and father of a little girl. That case settled for $6 million.

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