How Dangerous Is Drowsy Driving? 

drowsy driving

The risks of driving drunk and distracted driving are well-known. However, there is another bad habit that is not as widely talked about but is just as dangerous. That is drowsy driving. 

According to the most recent data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were nearly 700 deaths in a single year because of drowsy driving car wrecks in the United States. One study estimates approximately one in five fatal car accidents involves a drowsy driver. 

Fatigue and sleepiness affect the human body in ways that are similar to alcohol. Among other changes, drowsiness negatively affects reaction time, coordination, and decision-making. Someone who has trouble staying awake behind the wheel is not in control of their vehicle and is a danger to themselves and others. 

This discussion reviews the risks of driving drowsy and what to do if you are injured by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. 

Drowsy Driving Is a Widespread Problem

According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 25 adults admitted to falling asleep while driving in the previous month. In another poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, more than half of participants said they had driven drowsy in the past year.  

It is not easy to assess precisely how big the problem of drowsy driving is in this country, because there is no test available to determine if a driver was fatigued at the time of the accident. Probably, drowsy driving is much more common than the data suggests. 

Unless drivers admit to drifting off or someone witnesses them nodding off, police, insurance companies, and attorneys have to rely on accident evidence to determine how and why a car wreck occurred. Typically, fatigue-related motor vehicle accidents involve a single driver, and no pedestrians, who runs off the road at a high speed with no skid marks or other signs of braking. 

How Does Fatigue Affect Driving?

At this point, you might be curious about why it is so risky to drive while overtired. After all, who has not yawned throughout their morning commute? Sleep deprivation leads to impairment that is similar to drunkenness. 

Someone impaired by sleeplessness may: 

  • Have a slower reaction time
  • Have trouble controlling their vehicle
  • Not be attentive to their surroundings 
  • Be more easily distracted 
  • Be more likely to make poor decisions 
  • Be more likely to take risks 

The likelihood of a driver falling asleep at the wheel increases the longer they go without sleep. After 24 hours of no sleep, a person has impairment similar to someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10 percent. That is higher than the legal BAC in Maryland and many other states. 

Factors that Lead to Drowsy Driving

Most people have experienced a sleepless night occasionally, but beyond occasional sleep troubles, there are some other factors that contribute to drowsy driving: 

Alcohol. Alcohol and fatigue are a deadly combination.  Consuming alcohol tends to make most people feel a bit sleepy. For someone who is already tired from lack of sleep, the effects of alcohol will be magnified, especially when it comes to decision-making and reaction time. 

Medications. Many prescription and over-the-counter medications cause drowsiness. Some even come with a warning to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery after taking them. Ask your health care provider about the risks and side effects of your medications and supplements to avoid drowsy driving. 

Profession. People in certain professions are more vulnerable to the dangers of drowsy driving. 

Truckers, package delivery employers, bus drivers, and others who drive for a living should take frequent breaks and abide by laws that regulate how many consecutive hours they drive. People who work odd hours or have long or irregular shifts can also experience drowsy driving because their regular sleep cycles are disrupted. 

Sleep deprivation and deficiency. Sleep deprivation is a condition in which you get less than the required amount of sleep. For adults, that ranges from seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Young children and teens need even more sleep every day. 

Beyond the number of hours that a person sleeps every night, sleep deficiency refers to the quality of sleep they get. Deep, uninterrupted sleep is a necessity to feel rested and refreshed. If you typically sleep for eight hours but toss and turn all night, you may have insufficient sleep. 

Sleep disorders. Sleep disorders are conditions that disrupt a person’s normal sleep pattern. There are more than 80 different sleep disorders that keep people up at night. Sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia are among the most common. Many sleep disorders require medical intervention, including surgery, medication, and sleep apparatus to improve sleep quality and overall health and well-being. 

Time of day. The time a person drives also plays a part in how fatigued they may be. Drowsy driving car accidents peak in the early morning hours between midnight and 6:00 a.m., and during the mid-afternoon slump. 

How Do I Know When I Am Too Tired to Drive?

Knowing the first signs of drowsiness can help you determine if it is safe to drive. If you experience these common signs of drowsy driving, look for the next safe opportunity to pull over and rest: 

  • Difficulty maintaining the appropriate speed
  • Drifting into another lane, the shoulder, or onto rumble strips 
  • Forgetting the last few miles driven 
  • Frequent yawning, blinking, or dozing off
  • Missing a turn, exit, traffic sign or signal
  • Unintentionally following another car too closely 

What Are Microsleeps?

A microsleep is a period of sleep that lasts anywhere from a few to several seconds. It is the experience of drifting off without even realizing it. 

If you are at home binge-watching your favorite TV series, microsleeps are no big deal. But if you are behind the wheel, these brief episodes of sleep can be deadly. It only takes two or three seconds of losing control of a vehicle for a motor vehicle accident to occur. Some people experience microsleeps from medical conditions such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. However, they can also happen after a night or two of poor-quality sleep. 

Microsleep symptoms include having a blank stare, body jerks, dropping your head, and not responding to one’s surroundings. If you experience any of these while driving, pull over as soon as possible and get some rest. 

Tips to Prevent a Drowsy Driving Accident

Now that you know the risks and dangers of drowsy driving, you may be more inclined to make sleep a priority. Here are some practical tips to avoid driving while fatigued. 

Good sleep is essential to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Turn off technology a few hours before turning in. Try to resist your afternoon nap and keep a regular sleep schedule if possible. All these habits will help you sleep better for longer. 

Rest is vital for safe driving as well. Whether you are driving all day for your job or planning a road trip adventure, be sure to include plenty of rest breaks. Break up a long drive into manageable time increments to prevent you from falling asleep behind the wheel. If you notice the signs of fatigue mentioned above, wait until it is safe to stop and recharge. 

Drowsy drivers are an ever-present danger. If you or someone you care about was injured in a car wreck caused by a motorist impaired by sleeplessness, contact a lawyer experienced in personal injury to learn your legal rights and options under the law. You may be entitled to damages for medical costs, lost income, and pain and trauma. 

Baltimore Car Wreck Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent Clients Injured by Reckless Drivers 

Drivers who endanger others by driving drunk, drowsy, or distracted must be held accountable when their choices impact others. The Baltimore car wreck lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton have the skills and experience to manage, litigate, and control the narrative of your personal injury claim to improve your chance of recovering fair compensation for your losses. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, NottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.