Driving Drowsy

I have some good news and I have some bad news. Which do you want first? Ok. The Good news is that most drivers do NOT drive after drinking. The bad news is that most drivers HAVE driven under the influence……of the #3 cause of car crashes in this country……DRIVING DROWSY.

Sleep Deprivation Effects Same as Being Drunk
After staying awake for 24 hours straight, a person will be about as impaired as if he had had enough alcohol to be legally drunk in most states, a study says.

Australian researchers tested 40 people to create a “blood alcohol equivalent” for different levels of impairment from sleeplessness.

In one experiment, participants stayed awake for 28 hours. In the other, they drank alcohol every half hour until they reached a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent. That’s the drunken-driving standard in most American states.

Every half hour, the subjects took a computerized test of hand-eye coordination.

Results showed that after 24 hours of sleeplessness, participants were about as impaired as they were at the 0.10 percent level of blood alcohol. After 17 hours, they were about as impaired as they were with an alcohol level of 0.05 percent, which many Western countries define as legally drunk, the researchers said.

The State of New Jersey has now made any injury crash involving fatigue, a felony.

Who is Most at Risk?

  • Young People – In a North Carolina state study, 55 percent fatigue-related crashes involved people 25-years-old and younger; 78 percent of them were males.
  • Shift Workers – Studies suggest that 20 to 30 percent of those with non-traditional work schedules have had a sleep-related driving mishap within the last year. One study shows that shift workers are two to five times more likely than employees with regular, daytime work hours to fall asleep on the job.
  • Commercial Drivers – In addition to the high number of miles driven each year, truck drivers also drive during the night. Most people are programmed to sleep when it’s dark; experts suggest that driving be avoided during the “low” period between 2 and 6 a.m.
  • Undiagnosed Sleep Disorders Sufferers – A surprising number of people are tired because they have a sleep disorder. Disorders such as chronic insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome-all of which lead to excessive daytime sleepiness- afflict an estimated 50 million Americans.
Long-Haul Truckers Need More Sleep

A small study of long-haul truck drivers in the United States and Canada has shown truckers don’t get as much sleep as they need to be alert behind the wheel. Reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study showed that in one out of every eight trips, drivers did not get or did not take their full eight-hour breaks between shifts. When they got their breaks, they did not spend the time sleeping and, as a result, got far less rest than they needed.

The findings underscore the need to educate workers and schedulers about the importance of adequate sleep with respect to public safety,” the researchers said.

Each year in the United States 110,000 people are injured and 5,000 killed in commercial truck accidents. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded 1,500 people die each year in the United States when drivers — both truckers and non-truckers — fall asleep behind the wheel; another 76,000 are injured.

Truck drivers are supposed to get at least eight hours off duty each day and work no more than 60 hours per week. In the United States, drivers who have logged 10 hours behind the wheel must have the next eight off; in Canada the rule is 13 hours of driving time. Most drivers said they needed about seven hours of sleep a night. They got about five, with drivers who always worked nights getting an average of 4 1/2 hours. Drivers who always worked during the day tended to get 5 3/4 hours of sleep.

Although all 80 drivers knew they were being monitored on videotape, 45 had at least one episode where they were judged to be drowsy behind the wheel.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. William Dement of Stanford University said the findings reflected his belief that ”pervasive drowsy driving is an established fact in the United States. Numerous polls have found that up to 56 percent of the general public drives while drowsy.”

Almost one quarter of 18 to 29-year olds report they have fallen asleep at the wheel at some point during the past year, according to a new survey on sleep and fatigue conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. And half of U.S. adults admit to driving while they are tired.

Reporting on the survey, Bloomberg said that the poll of 1,154 adults was taken in October and November 1999 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Seventeen percent of those polled said they had fallen asleep while driving in the past year. Among 30- to 64-year olds, 15 percent reported falling asleep at the wheel in the past year, while only 5 percent of those 65 and older reported dozing off while driving.

Forty-two percent of those polled said they become “stressed” while driving drowsy and 12 percent say they drive faster when they are sleepy, according to the survey.

“Driving while drowsy is no different than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” said Richard Gelula, the National Sleep Foundation’s executive director. “Sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment.”

The effects of driving drowsy mimic the effect of driving drunk.
  • Reaction time is slowed
  • Decreased awareness
  • Impaired judgment

It turns out to be a fact that your body CANNOT predict sleep onset. Now, we have all experienced that buzz behind the eyes that makes us say….”I just need to close my eyes for ONE SECOND”….but did you know that even though you may have every conscious intention of re-opening your eyes, the body may feel different and onset sleep at that split second? If you have ever fallen asleep at the wheel and lived to tell the tale, don’t EVER say you are an unlucky person!