Is Drowsy Driving the New Drunk Driving?

Everyone knows the dangers of drinking and driving. We see the distractions involved with texting and driving, but few are attuned to the risks involved with getting behind the wheel while drowsy. Drowsy driving…doesn’t sound too serious, does it? In fact, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.

Studies show that one out of every six fatal traffic accidents and one out of eight crashes requiring hospitalization are due to drowsy driving. An astonishing 41% of drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at some point, and 10% of drivers reported falling asleep within the past year. With the growing commitments and responsibilities in our daily lives, these numbers are expected to grow. The easiest thing to eliminate to accommodate the growing time restraint is……sleep.

Adequate quality sleep is not just something that is beneficial to get every occasionally, it is vital to keep us healthy. Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleep to function at our fullest potential and our bodies have built-in mechanisms to ensure that we get enough sleep. If we continue to get a less than optimal amount, our bodies go into a “sleep debt”. When our bodies go into a sleep debt the only way to repay that “debt” is more sleep. Studies have linked sleepiness to decreases in reaction time, memory, psychomotor skills, information processing, and decision-making; all of which are essential for safe driving. The effects of sleepiness on driving performance have been studied extensively. Being awake for 18 consecutive hours and getting behind the wheel of an automobile is equal to that of a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. In other words, driving while sleepy is like driving while drunk as it equates to the risk of a crash.


drowsy driving infographic


Infographic courtesy of Ebb Therapeutics.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) recently conducted a study and found that drivers who miss two to three hours of sleep daily more than quadruple their risk of getting in a car accident compared to drivers who sleep for the adequate 7 to 9 hours. There are several telltale signs you should watch out for while behind the wheel with inadequate sleep. These signs include difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, heavy eyelids, and trouble remembering the last few miles driven. Taking a 15 to 20-minute nap or consuming the equivalent of two cups of coffee have been shown to temporarily alleviate the symptoms of sleepiness. But the best thing you can do to combat sleepiness is getting quality sleep.

Drowsy driving and lack of quality sleep are a very serious health issues that need more attention and public education. With education, awareness, and action, thousands of lives and billions of dollars can be saved every year by eliminating a very preventable issue.



Jarad Ripperger, RPSGT, RST, CCSH, is the Director and Vice President of Sleep Center of Willmar, LLC located in west central Minnesota. 

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