Many people think they can handle the situation behind the wheel when they feel their eyelids droop or when their head starts to nod. Sleepiness can overtake even the best driver, but the usual tricks of pulling over for a large cup of coffee, turning up the radio volume or rolling down the windows for some cold, fresh air will not remove the dangers or give you more control over your vehicle.
While drowsy driving doesn’t sound as serious as drunk driving, a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that a driver who has slept less than six hours has a crash risk that is comparable to someone who is drunk. Furthermore, the report also revealed that drivers who sleep only five or six hours a day double their risk of being involved in a car accident.
“If you have not slept seven or more hours in a given 24-hour period, you really shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car,” says Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research for AAA.
Sleep deprivation doubles accident risk
For their study, the AAA used data from the NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey based on 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes between July 2005 and December 2007. Each crash included in the survey involved at least one vehicle that was towed from the scene, and which resulted in emergency medical services being dispatched.
As a part of the study, the drivers were asked the number of hours they had slept – including naps if they were longer than 30 minutes each – in the 24 hours before the accident. Furthermore, they were questioned about some other factors that could have contributed to the crash, including mechanical failures, errors committed by drivers and environmental conditions.
The researchers found that the chance of causing a collision significantly increased with a decrease in sleeping hours. They reported a 1.3 times increased risk of car accidents when a driver had six to seven hours of sleep, a 1.9 increase when the driver had five to six hours of shut-eye, and a 4.5 times higher risk when they had slept for four to five hours. However, most drivers involved in a crash were found to have had less than four hours of sleep, which increased the risk by a whopping 11.5 times.
Previous studies have reported that sleep-deprived or drowsy drivers cause about 20 percent of fatal accidents in the United States. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 35,092 people died in car crashes in the U.S last year, which is a 7.2 percent increase over 2014.
Too drowsy to drive? What are the warning signs?
Nowadays, it has become very tough to maintain the right balance between work and life. Many of us struggle to get everything done during the day. Therefore, we often sacrifice sleep to bridge the gap. According to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three Americans doesn’t get enough quality sleep on a regular basis, which not only puts their lives at risk, but also the lives of others on the road.
While most of the drivers acknowledged the danger of drowsy driving, about one in three admitted to doing so in the past month. Warning signs of drowsy driving include drooping eyes, constant yawning, a nodding head, drifting across lanes and not remembering the last few miles driven.
Despite the clear signs, half of the drivers involved in crashes caused by drowsiness said they didn’t feel sleepy before falling asleep behind the wheel. Therefore, for safe driving it is crucial to prioritize sleep and scan for warning signs every time you get behind the wheel. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night.