Facts About Drowsy Driving

What Is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving or driver fatigue is used to describe the experience of being “sleepy,” “tired,” drowsy,” or exhausted. Its main causes include: sleep loss or too little sleep, interrupted or fragmented sleep, chronic sleep debt, circadian factors such as jet lag or shift work, undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders, use of sedating medications, and consumption of alcohol. These factors have cumulative effects and a combination of any of these can greatly increase one’s risk for a fatigue-related crash.

Drowsy driving or driver fatigue is now identified as one of the leading causes of road accidents. Statistics from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. This may only be the tip of the iceberg. Many researchers believe that federal statistics significantly under-report the problem of driver fatigue for several reasons. One is that involvement of drowsiness or fatigue is difficult for police to detect. State reporting practices are likewise inconsistent. There is little or no police training in identifying drowsiness as a crash factor.

Just like drugs or alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time and vision, decreases awareness, performance, vigilance and motivation, and impairs judgment. Drowsy individuals can have problems with information processing and short-term memory, and manifestations of increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors. Just like drugs or alcohol, it can be fatal when driving.

A poll by the National Sleep Foundation in revealed that 62 percent of all adults surveyed reported driving a car or other vehicle while feeling drowsy in the prior year. While 27 percent reported that they had, at some time, dozed off while driving. And 23 percent of adults stated that they know someone who experienced a fall-asleep crash within the past year.

Who Is At Risk Of Drowsy Driving?

Specific at-risk groups of drowsy driving include drivers who are sleep-deprived or fatigued, driving long distances without breaks, driving during “down time” (when people are normally tired or asleep, driving alone, or driving through long, boring roads, taking medication or drinking alcohol.

Young people are likewise a high-risk group. Young adults especially males under 26, who tend to stay up late, sleep too little, and drive at night, shift workers and people with long work hours, commercial drivers (truckers), business travelers who experience jet lags, and people with undiagnosed or untreated disorders.

In general, since we all require sleep on a daily basis, any driver can succumb to fatigue or be at higher risk for experiencing a decrease of alertness or microsleep when they have not obtained adequate sleep, both in quality and quantity.