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Too Sleepy to Drive: Facts and Statistics on Drowsy Driving

Jalesa Campbell
Updated Dec 7, 2020
2 min read

Many of us, at some point, have probably felt sleepy while behind the wheel. While it’s inevitable that this can happen, the choices we make once we realize we’re drowsy can make the difference between getting into an accident and arriving safely at our destination.

National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, usually observed the first week of November, raises awareness about drowsy driving and how commuters can avoid it. This observance also tends to fall around the time we set our clocks back an hour once Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends.

While some experts agree that adjusting our clocks isn’t good for our bodies, drowsy driving can occur at any time and any moment while you’re on the road. And drowsy driving statistics are eye-opening, painting a clearer picture of why we need to take it seriously. Here’s a closer look at some stats you might not have known about sleep-deprived driving.

Losing Control: 6 Drowsy Driving Statistics

1. Staying up for more than 20 hours can make you as impaired as reaching the blood alcohol limit of 0.08%.

Did you know that driving while you’re sleep-deprived can be just as bad as drinking alcohol? According to The National Sleep Foundation, when you’re sleepy, you’re not only driving while impaired, but you could also have slower response times, experience impaired vision, and make bad decisions. The National Safety Council also warns that you’re also three times as likely to have a crash when you’re tired.

2. More than 100,000 accidents are caused by drowsy driving each year.

And this number is likely an underestimate of the actual totals. The National Sleep Foundation reports that about 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries occur each year. Those who are more susceptible to this are night shift workers, tractor trailer drivers, those taking medications that cause drowsiness, and those with sleep disorders.

3. More than half of drivers (59%) were behind the wheel for less than an hour before falling asleep and getting into an accident.

It’s stunning to hear that many drivers involved in a sleep-related crash were behind the wheel for less than an hour. It can also speak to how easy it is to fall asleep, especially after work or when your body is relaxing and disengaging while driving. While going into “auto-pilot mode” might be routine, it could help to deviate from the norm by stopping to get a caffeinated beverage before taking your drive.

4. Younger drivers (aged 16-24) were more likely to be involved in a crash.

Many young drivers had almost double the likelihood of getting into a crash than drivers between the ages of 40 and 59 years old.

5. Men (52%) were more likely to report falling asleep behind the wheel than women (30%).

More men reported falling asleep while driving than women. As a whole, more than half of Americans have admitted drifting off into sleep while driving within the past year.

6. You’re capable of driving the length of a football field during 4-5 seconds of micro-sleep.

Drifting off to sleep can put you at great risk, even if it’s for several seconds. You can travel about 100 yards in seconds, which is a significant distance in a little time.

States Where Sleep-Deprived Driving Is a Problem

Amerisleep conducted a study using data from 2016 to gain a better understanding of fatalities nationwide. Texas had the most sleep-related fatalities in 206, with Alabama and California coming in second and third, respectively. Texas had 159 fatalities, a wide step from other states having less than 50 sleep-related fatalities. However, only two states have laws that mark drowsy-driving as an offense, and they are Arkansas and New Jersey. Texas joins California, Alabama, Florida, and Massachusetts in setting aside days or weeks to raise awareness.

Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving

There are many behaviors that signify it’s time to take a break. Here are several that you need to be on the lookout during your commute:

  • You’re having a hard time staying in your lane
  • You’re struggling to focus on the road
  • Your eyelids feel heavy
  • You keep riding over the rumble strips on the shoulder of the road
  • You find yourself missing traffic signals or signs

 

What to Do When You’re Too Sleepy to Drive

  • If you have a passenger, ask them to take the wheel. Sharing road responsibilities, especially if you’re traveling for the holidays or another event, can ease the load.
  • Get a caffeinated beverage. Grabbing a cup of coffee, tea, or another caffeinated beverage can help you to stay alert.
  • Turn up the music. If hearing someone else talking or singing will help keep you alert, turn on the radio or a playlist.
  • Pull over to a safe place and take a brief nap. Some motor vehicles have assistive technologies, like drowsiness alerts, that notify you it’s time to pull over. If you notice that you’re not going to be able to make it further without rest, pull over to a safe and well-lit place if it’s dark, and take a brief nap.

How to Avoid Drowsy Driving

To avoid driving while sleepy and prevent accidents, make sure you have good sleep hygiene. Experts recommend at least seven hours of sleep each day so you can function as you need to. Create a bedtime routine for the week, aiming to go to sleep at the same time each day. Also, make sure you have a clear and restful space — setting your room’s temperature for comfort can help you sleep better.

Keep these tips in mind for your daily commute and travel plans. Staying alert while driving is essential for traffic safety, and while our society can paint an “always on” picture, the truth is that we need to recognize when “always on” doesn’t work for our bodies, even while driving. We hope these statistics and tips will prove helpful for you throughout the year.

 

Photos by Andrew Paterson / mphillips007 / mphillips007 / Prostock-Studio / Westend61 / ljubaphoto / Peter Stark /  GettyImages


Safety and Security Reporter

Jalesa Campbell

Jalesa is one of Safety.com's staff experts on home security, natural disasters, public safety, and family safety. She's been featured on Today.com and elsewhere.

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