Nearly every driver understands that it is dangerous to get behind the wheel if you've been drinking - your reaction time is lagged, your motor skills are shot and your brain can't stay focused on driving.
Unfortunately, many of us don't apply this same logic to drowsy driving, even though the dangers are very much the same. In a recent survey, approximately one-third of Americans admitted that at some point in the last 30 days they had gotten behind the wheel when they were so sleepy they could barely keep their eyes open.
One out of every six fatal traffic accidents in the United States involves a drowsy driver. All told, drowsy driving causes 100,000 accidents every year, resulting in 1,550 deaths. An additional 71,000 suffer personal injury at the hands of drowsy drivers.
Experts say that being awake for more than 20 hours results in the same level of impairment as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08. It's possible for drivers to fall into a "microsleep" for several seconds without even realizing it.
Drowsy Driving Accidents Are Preventable
The good news is that drowsy driving car accidents can be prevented so long as drivers are responsible enough to recognize when they should get off the road. If drivers notice themselves slipping into daydreams, feeling their eyelids drooping, yawning repeatedly or having trouble clearly remember the last few miles, they should pull over and rest as soon as possible.
It turns out that many of the tricks we use to keep ourselves going don't actually work. Turning up the radio and singing along won't do anything to make you a safer driver. Neither will rolling down the window for a blast of cold air.
The safest thing to do if you find yourself feeling drowsy - especially on a long car trip - is to stop driving and find a place to sleep for the night. If you can't do that, the next best option is to drink a cup of coffee, then pull over and take a 20 minute nap. When you wake up, take a couple of brisk laps around the car. This combination of rest, caffeine and exercise should buy you a couple of hours to get to your destination.
It's easy to want to "make good time" on a long trip by avoiding breaks and driving through the night, but drivers need to be conscious that they are putting countless others at risk by driving while drowsy.
Source: School Transportation News: "NTSB Promotes 'Drowsy Driving Prevention Week,'" Ryan Gray, Nov. 7, 2011.