The statistics speak volumes:
- Approximately 1 in every 6 fatal crashes – or 16.5 percent – in the US involves a drowsy driver
- 10% of drivers surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety admitted to falling asleep while driving their vehicle during the past 12 months
- Almost one-third of respondents said that they got behind the wheel during the previous four weeks even though it had been hard to keep their eyes open
- And, paradoxically, when asked how acceptable driving while finding it difficult to keep your eyes open was, a whopping 96% said it was unacceptable
The authors of this study explain that some drivers may not understand the impact not getting enough sleep can have on your alertness, reflexes, and degree of fatigue. I couldn’t agree more.
Drunk driving is such a strong societal taboo, and yet drowsy driving may arguably be more prevalent – and equally as dangerous.
Similar to the effects of alcohol and other drugs, sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgment. Add that to an existing sleep disorder and you’re looking at a recipe for very serious disaster and harm to yourself and others. Consider these other stats:
- Drowsy drivers are involved in 1 in every 8 crashes in which somebody ends up in a hospital
- 1 in every 14 crashes in which the vehicle was towed away involves a driver who was drowsy
- Sleepers with mild sleep apnea are twice as likely to crash their cars
As we find our schedules altered during the holiday season, these stats make for a good reminder. When you add the stress of family gatherings with copious food and beverage – not to mention sugar highs and sleep-deprived lows – it’s enough to leave anyone exhausted at the end of the party. Yet we all need to get home somehow. It’s practically human nature to underestimate the negative effects associated with fatigue and sleep deprivation and, conversely, overestimate our abilities to overcome them while driving.
This data underscores the importance of recognizing the power of sleep deprivation and the perils that can await us when we don’t take measures to police our own habits, as well as our wellbeing. It is really very simple: If you are the least bit sleepy, do not put yourself or others in danger. A designated, sober and well-rested driver is something to consider this holiday season.
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™