Driving tired or drowsy is a tremendous problem anywhere and at any time. In the US, this tends to happen continuously, and has turned into the origin of huge tragedies and devastating shocks for years. It's clear that falling asleep at the wheel can be extremely dangerous, but being tired and fatigued while driving, also known as drowsy driving, is a major risk in any situation.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “Driving drowsy causes about 6,000 deadly crashes every year, and in 2017, this phenomenon caused about 91,000 crashes, resulting in 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths. In 2022, Drowsy driving accounts for about 100,000 crashes annually on the roadway, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities per year (NSC)”. As you can see, it is more serious than imagined, and can lead to extreme dangers that may even affect the driver’s life.
Believe it or not, in 2022, according to Drowsy Driving statistics established on a Bankrate article, “About 27% of drivers report driving while being so tired they have difficulty keeping their eyes open, 1 in 25 drivers admit to falling asleep behind the wheel (CDC), and 47% of those who have nodded off while driving did so on a trip lasting one hour or less (NHTSA)” That’s unbelievable, and the truth is that this is a problem that be considered and fixed with strong measures to prevent it from continuing to grow exponentially every year.
There are many causes that directly affect drowsy driving, and most of them are related to disorders and ingested substances as its main cause.
Lack of sleep: Sleep deprivation is the main cause of this problem, because those who suffer from drowsy driving are mostly people who do not have a regular sleep cycle, and therefore do not sleep the necessary hours. This is how microsleeps, or small sleep breaks during the journey, begin to regularly affect drivers until finally leading them to a longer sleep that can result in a crash.
Sleep disorders: Sleep apnea is one of the most frequent sleep problems due to the fact that it generates interruptions while sleeping, depriving you from a deep and long sleep and causing low performance during the day and possible microsleeps. According to Mattress Clarity, anywhere from 1,745 men and 1,456 women between the ages of 40 and 89, people with severe sleep apnea had a 123% increased risk of being in a motor vehicle crash." This clearly shows how real and dangerous this disorder could be, and the frequency it has.
Time: Accidents that are caused by drowsy driving occur mostly between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the middle of the afternoon. These are moments where sleep spikes are activated, so microsleeps can appear along the way. The more interrupted and uncomfortable the person's sleep session has been, the more likely accidents may occur during these hours.
Alcohol: Alcohol can be the worst enemy for this type of situation. Consuming alcohol can generate excessive sleep and affect the senses, reaction to decision making, reflexes, and time consciousness, putting the driver and all passengers in a risky situation. It doesn't matter if the amount of alcohol consumed was high or low, it can still be dangerous for the driver. The feeling of being sober doesn’t mean “danger free”, because alcohol tends to relax and sedate different parts of the body consciously and unconsciously, and impairs judgment. Besides that, if the person is tired or has slept little, the effect of alcohol will be even greater.
Medications: As you may know, a big quantity of medications induce sleep, including prescriptions, diet supplements, or those that must be taken before going to bed, such as NyQuil or Benadryl. Therefore, it's not recommended to consume this type of medication, as they can affect driving behaviors more than you think.
Long road trips: Driving long journeys results as another drowsy driving factor. Navigating for hours on completely straight roads, with few cars and lack of changing landscapes, can generate intermittent sleep that even the person who is driving cannot anticipate properly. The mind begins to desire changes, and due to this, its warning signs begin to wane. In addition, sitting for a long time causes the blood to move slower and bring the person to a state of relaxation. Therefore, it is always better to sleep well the night before, to prevent you from succumbing to symptoms of tiredness and sleepiness.
Believe it or not, most people who have ever suffered from drowsy driving, can't admit they were sleepy or tired while driving because they were not conscious of it. Therefore, one of the main dangers of drowsy driving is not being able to realize they are experiencing this situation. This is why different types of blood tests have been developed to determine if the person was tired, did not sleep well, or presented some type of disorder the day before driving.
Simon Archer, Professor of Molecular Biology of Sleep at University of Surrey, states that "The very existence of such biomarkers in the blood after only a period of 24-hour wakefulness shows the physiological impact a lack of sleep can have on our body. Identifying these biomarkers is the first step to developing a test which can accurately calculate how much sleep an individual has had". This type of practice allows experts to determine the number of accidents and the risks that fatigue and sleep factors can bring when driving.
Drowsy driving can occur at any age, however, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, adults between 46-64 years are more likely to experience sleepiness or fatigue while driving, representing 41% of the group of people studied. However, ages between 21-29 were very close to the other group, representing 40% of respondents, while teenagers between 16-20 years old, only represented 18%. Therefore adults between 46-64 years and teenagers are those mostly affected by drowsy driving and are prone to accidents on the road.
There are different situations that can affect a driver in terms of being tired or sleepy on the road. Beyond age, activities or responsibilities during the day can also be the main causes of drowsy driving. Let's get to know the main two:
Working hours: Long working hours strongly affect performance while driving. Shifting from the usual 8 hour working routine during the day, to schedules that involve working at midnight, early morning, or rotating shifts, generate a heart rate impact that affects the sleep routine of each person. Any job that involves this type of demand, becomes a major cause of sleep and fatigue when driving.
Being a commercial driver: This is one of the riskiest jobs in terms of drowsy driving. Why? Simple. Because the drivers must handle several driving schedules while they transit on straight roads, which can result in fatigue, tiredness, discomfort, and therefore, microsleeps.
Drowsy driving can lead to catastrophes if it's not managed or prevented. That's why it's important to be aware of the signs and dangers it can signal in each person.
Crashes are one of the main results of drowsy driving. No matter what the consequences are, this has been causing long-term effects on people. Some have just experienced small mishaps, while others have been close to death or fatally affected the life of their passengers.
In some other cases, people have been jailed for drowsy driving. Why this? Well, damaging corporate properties, injuring employees, or even rating this as a form of homicide such as in the states of Arkansas and New Jersey, are some of the reasons. According to USA Today, "State Troopers will pull you over if they see you oddly zigzagging in your lane. They might ask you how much you've slept in the past 24 hours.” And, in case you have not slept the right amount of time or seem tired, you might get a warning or even a ticket.
Check some of the signs that warn you about drowsy driving. If you’re able to notice them, they might save you from a possible accident:
By presenting one or more of the signs above means you’re at risk while driving and should take it seriously. But, there’s a positive side as well! Keep scrolling to see some great tips to prevent you from drowsy driving.
Here we'll show you some little tricks that can help you stay awake along the way. They are useful when driving and can help you prevent drowsy driving. However, you should know that they will not warn you from this in its entirety, and will simply serve as a partial help.
Open the windows: The breeze, especially if it is cold, can help your senses stay alert due to the slight change in temperatures that your body experiences during this time.
Air conditioning: If possible, point the air conditioner at you to feel the air shock and stay awake. With the help of an air conditioner, the mind's natural need to sleep can be held off a little. The cooler air keeps you more attentive and prevents you from drifting off.
Turn on the radio: Listening to your favorite music or a radio show that catches your eye can keep you alert and focused on it while driving. However, you should know that if this method generates a lot of distraction, you’d better not use it and take a nap or sleep well before going out on the road.
As long as your sleep cycle lasts around 8-10 hours every night without interruptions, your chances of sleepiness while driving are at a minimum. In addition to this, other factors such as your mood, mental and emotional health, performance of your tasks, among others, will be greatly improved. Here are some habits that you can take into account to sleep better:
Sleep schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same hour every day for better sleeping habits.
No electronic devices: The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you should stop using electronic devices, like your cellphone, at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Grab the newspaper, magazine or a book, and you’ll see how quickly you will fall asleep and feel better the next day. Also, avoid watching tv or using any other device that may interrupt your sleep cycle.
Bedroom conditions: Make sure you are sleeping comfortably. That means, a good pillow, bed, and dark and silent room. If you are not able to sleep under these conditions, then your sleep won’t be adequate and may result in dangerous driving.
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