Dangers of Drowsy/Fatigued/
The feeling may be familiar: you’re driving along late a night on a near-empty road. It’s warm, and you’re feeling comfortable. You’re feeling relaxed when suddenly your eyes start to get heavy and you find yourself losing concentration.
If so, you’re not alone. According to a report by the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 25 adult drivers (18 years or older) report having fallen asleep in the last month.
In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that “drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013.”
The numbers may actually be even higher; some reports suggest up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be the result of tired drivers.
Snoring is a major correlatory factor, indicating potential sleep apnea, and a general loss of sleep quality. One of the most common recommendations from the CDC and the NHTSA is for drivers who regularly experience drowsiness to get a medical checkup, as there are often underlying medical issues when sleep quality is diminished.
The rise of smartphones and other technology, combined with social media has diminished the quality of sleep throughout the United States. The average circadian rhythm length is around 24 hours, and those who view smartphone light before bed upset their circadian rhythm by exposing themselves to blue light.
Studies are still relatively new in the field, but one hypothesis is that blue light tricks the brain into perceiving daylight and therefore upsetting the release of the chemical melatonin in the brain. This plays a major role in sleep quality.
So being on your smartphone before bed not only keeps you up later but diminishes the quality of your sleep. As a rule of thumb, don’t look at a screen an hour before bed to avoid any major impact on your circadian rhythm.
the statistics on
Although drowsy driving can occur at any time and any place, there are certain profiles of a drowsy driving incident. Statistics show that the following three factors usually play a role in drowsy driving crashes, which usually happen:
Who is most likely to drive drowsy?
Studies have consistently shown that driving drowsy regularly affects the same segments of the population. If you fit one of these profiles, then you should examine your driving habits to see if you’re guilty of driving while drowsy.
Those who drive vehicles like tow trucks, tractors trailers and buses have to drive for a living, so a poor night’s sleep, or illness, does not give them the option to work from home. In addition, those who work long hours are more likely to be pushing themselves beyond their limits. In particular, long-distance truck drivers are likely to strive to reach their destination rather than resting.
People who work the night or evening shifts often have disrupted sleep patterns, and have upset their circadian rhythm. This makes them far more likely to be driving while drowsy, particularly during the late night/early morning hours.
Drivers with sleep apnea
An estimated 22 million Americans have sleep apnea, with 80% being undiagnosed. This means that there are around 18 million drivers who are susceptible to sleep apnea without them even realizing it.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American commute time is 26 minutes each way, or nearly 1 hour a day. For those who have longer commutes, often requiring them to get up early and get home late, there is a real danger of drowsy driving.
What are the warning signs?
Knowing you are getting drowsy is often harder than it may seem; you often only realize too late that you are losing focus and attention and you are starting to feel sleepy. Look out for the following signs.
Yawning or blinking frequently
Yawning is one of the most obvious signs that you are starting to fall asleep. Blinking, or feeling that your eyes are itchy (or just generally rubbing your eyes) is also a sign. You will often start rubbing your eyes long before you notice it.
Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
‘Blanking’ on what has happened in the last few minutes is a sure sign your attention span has diminished, and you’re not focusing on the road. It doesn’t mean you were asleep, just that your brain isn’t storing information as it usually does.
Missing your exit
Again, not being able to hold thoughts for too long in your head shows you’re getting drowsy, and missing your exit is certainly a symptom of improper memory and cognitive function.
Drifting from your lane/hitting a rumble strip
Drifting out of your lane can be extremely dangerous when driving. If you’re on the freeway, you may shock yourself by hitting a rumble strip and causing a loud juddering noise in the car. Some cars may also have lane sensors that send you a beep when you veer off course. Not being able to maintain a solid lane position is a major sign that you’re too drowsy to stay on the road, and the situation is becoming more serious.
How can I prevent it?
The best response to drowsy driving is to prevent it in the long term.
Get enough sleep
As the information above shows, getting 6 hours of sleep or less per night will double your chances of falling asleep at the wheel. If you feel you may be susceptible to drowsy driving then aim to get at least seven hours of sleep per night, and ideally 8 hours.
Stick to a sleep schedule
Going to bed and waking up at different times will confuse your body clock, and upset your circadian rhythms, both of which will lead to you feeling groggy and tired. Instead, aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Drinking and driving is never advisable, but even if you are below the legal drinking limit, the glass of wine with dinner will leave you feeling sleepy.
I do if I am
If you do find yourself drowsy driving, then you should act immediately. Of course, the best thing to do is to stop driving and let someone else take over. However, if that doesn’t work, there are a few steps you can take to make yourself feel better.
An IPSOS poll of drivers in 2017 found that there are 7 main solutions, each with differing perceived effectiveness.
Take a nap
Chat with a passenger
Turn on music or listen to the news on the radio
Drive with the window open
Nibble on food
Talk to someone on the phone
- Very effective
- Rather effective
- Rather not effective
- Not at all effective
Source: IPSOS Poll of French Drivers, 2017
Driving when you are tired is almost unavoidable in a world where we sleep less and drive more. However, tired driving can become drowsy driving, and very quickly become unsafe.
The three main dangers of drowsy driving are:
- Reduced attention span, and diminishes the ability of the driver to pay attention to the road.
- Slowed reaction time, and therefore an inability to react quickly to road conditions
- Impaired decision-making, sometimes akin to a driver being drunk.
So, if you wouldn’t drive after drinking, then you shouldn’t drive when you’re drowsy, as tiredness and alcohol both have the same impact on a driver’s cognitive function.
If you can’t avoid drowsy driving, then break your journey into smaller chunks by taking regular breaks.