Chances are, you hit a point in your day when you feel an overwhelming need to sleep. This might occur a few hours after dinner or around mid-afternoon. Perhaps early mornings are not your most productive times because you are too drowsy to focus. Of course, some days are worse than others, and you can predict those times. You were out late the night before. You worked a double shift. You took some cold medicine.
These and other factors not only affect your productivity at work and home, but they also affect your ability to drive safely. Unfortunately, too few people understand the serious nature of getting behind the wheel when they have not had adequate sleep. However, recent studies show that drowsy driving is often as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.
Sleepy or drunk?
More than half of the drivers you encounter have probably not had enough sleep. In fact, a recent survey revealed that at least 20% of drivers have fallen asleep while driving in the past year. Others may not even realize they had dropped off behind the wheel. To many, driving while sleepy is not a big deal, but researchers disagree. Drowsy driving was a factor in more than 91,000 accidents, killing hundreds and injuring thousands in a single year. Drunk driving accounted for only 10,000 crashes that same year.
Nevertheless, drowsy driving has many factors in common with drunk driving, including the following:
- Impaired judgment and decision-making
- Distorted vision
- Difficulty perceiving how close one is to other vehicles
- Reduced hand-eye coordination
- Slowness in reacting to avoid obstacles or adapt to changes in conditions
- Inability to judge how fast or slow one is driving
- Difficulty remaining in one lane
- Struggles remaining vigilant about the task of operating a vehicle
Sleep is a powerful instinct, and it can be nearly impossible to resist even if it is a matter of life and death.
Asleep at the wheel
Most medical professionals agree that about seven hours is a healthy amount of sleep for the average person. Those who get only four hours or less may experience impairment that is similar to someone with a .08 blood alcohol concentration, which is the legal limit in Texas.
Playing loud music, driving with the window open or drinking lots of caffeine cannot replace a good night’s sleep. Even if you are certain that you never get behind the wheel when you are too drowsy to drive safely, other drivers may not be so prudent.