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How dangerous is driving while drowsy?

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD
Psychology Specialist

The statistics speak volumes:

  • Approximately one in every six fatal crashes—or 16.5%—in the US involves a drowsy driver.
  • Ten percent of drivers surveyed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety admitted to falling asleep while driving their vehicle during the past 12 months.
  • At least one-quarter of respondents said that they got behind the wheel during the previous four weeks even though it had been hard to keep their eyes open.
  • Paradoxically, when asked how acceptable driving while finding it difficult to keep your eyes open was, a whopping 85% said it was unacceptable.

Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving. Drowsiness impairs one's ability to think quickly and clearly, similar to drunk driving.

Driving while drowsy is very dangerous. Recent studies have shown that sleepiness while driving increases the chance of accidents. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving accounts for 1,500, or 4%, of total traffic fatalities annually. Several studies have shown that being awake for 18 hours produces an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, where .08 is the legal limit. Being awake longer than that led to impairment equivalent of up to a BAC of .10! More concerning is that studies have shown that drivers cannot accurately rate their degree of impairment due to drowsiness and that sleep-related accidents are more common in young people than in the elderly. If you are drowsy or falling asleep while driving, stop and take a nap. Cold air and loud music are not effective in keeping you awake.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.