The Danger of Drowsy Driving

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Image of a woman in the driver's seat of a car looking tired
Image of a woman in the driver's seat of a car looking tired

Did you know that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving? It’s also more common. In 2017, an estimated 91,000 policereported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These incidents resulted in approximately 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths. The NHTSA reported that 10,874 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes that same year.

While official numbers show lower crash numbers for drowsy driving, the stats may be underreported. There are no tests for fatigue, but tiredness often has the same effect on motor skills as intoxication, making it extremely dangerous to all motorists.

Learn more about the dangers of drowsy driving and how you can take steps to stay awake and alert when operating a vehicle in and around Miami.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Like driving while intoxicated, fatigue impairs a driver’s cognitive and motor skills, leading to slower reaction times, decreased attention, and impaired decision-making.

Studies show that after about 18 hours of being awake, drivers’ reaction time and coordination are comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. This impairment increases to a BAC of 0.08% after 20 hours awake, which is the legal limit for drunk driving in most states.

Drowsy driving threatens road safety and adversely affects a driver’s abilities, such as:

  • Decreased motor skills: Drowsiness weakens driving skills, affecting steering, braking, and maneuvering. This increases accident risk by impairing response to road conditions and traffic.
  • Reduced attention span: Fatigue lowers a driver’s concentration, hindering the ability to spot signals, road signs, and traffic changes, compromising safe navigation.
  • Decreased adaptability: Fatigue leads to rigid thinking, reducing a driver’s ability to adapt to changing road conditions. This feedback blunting poses risks in situations requiring quick responses to sudden changes, such as detours or unforeseen actions by other drivers.
  • Impaired cognitive functions: Drowsiness weakens memory, problem-solving, creativity, and judgment, leading to poor decisions such as misjudging distances, speed, and other vehicles’ movements, thus raising collision risks.
  • Slower reaction time: In situations requiring immediate response, such as emergency braking or evasive maneuvers, a drowsy driver’s slowed reaction can be the difference between a near-miss and a serious accident.

Who is at Risk?

Drowsy driving is a widespread issue that affects the entire United States. Almost 30% of all American drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel at least once, and more than 50% have admitted to driving drowsy. The following groups are more at risk for drowsy driving incidents:

  • Shift workers: Those who work irregular, long hours are more at risk, as their work schedules disrupt normal sleep patterns. This can include nurses who often work 12-hour shifts or those working in warehouse facilities.
  • Commercial drivers: Long-haul commercial drivers often face long, monotonous drives without adequate rest, putting them at greater risk of fatigued driving. The FMCSA has implemented mandatory rest hours to combat this risk.
  • People with sleep disorders: Those with conditions like narcolepsy are at a higher risk. Narcolepsy affects the brain’s ability to control sleep-wake cycles, making it unsafe to operate a motor vehicle.
  • Long-distance airline travelers: Traveling long distances by plane can result in disordered sleep, causing jet lag. This temporary sleep disorder occurs when the body’s internal clock is out of sync with the current time zone, potentially affecting a person’s ability to stay awake behind the wheel.

How to Avoid Drowsy Driving

Florida introduced Drowsy Driving Prevention Week in 2010 to tackle the issue of drowsy driving. This event is held every September in memory of Ronshay Dugans, who was killed in a drowsy driving accident.

Despite these efforts, there were still 57 fatal crashes and 879 serious injuries due to fatigue-induced collisions in Florida in 2021. This makes it vital for all motorists to take the following steps to prevent drowsy driving.

  • Avoid alcohol and certain medications. Avoid consuming alcohol before driving, as it can impair your driving skills for several hours. Be cautious with medications that may cause drowsiness, like sedatives or antihistamines. Check labels or consult a healthcare provider if you are unsure.
  • Prioritize sleep. Aim for 7 to 9 hours per night, especially before long drives. Sufficient sleep reduces drowsiness, enhances alertness, and improves reaction time.
  • Share driving duties and plan breaks. Travel with a companion to reduce fatigue. Plan stops every 100 miles or two hours to stretch, refresh, and assess alertness.
  • Use rest areas and service plazas. Florida provides several rest areas, service plazas, and welcome centers throughout the state. Use them for breaks, rest, and relief from long drives.
  • Stay hydrated and eat lightly. Dehydration and heavy meals can lead to drowsiness. Drink water and eat light, healthy snacks like nuts, fruits, or cheese to maintain energy.
  • Recognize signs of drowsiness. Be alert for signs like frequent yawning, drooping eyelids, or veering out of your lane. If you notice these, it’s time to take a break.

Protect Yourself Against the Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving affects countless lives on the road. It’s our collective responsibility to prioritize safety by ensuring we are well-rested before getting behind the wheel.

If you or a loved one is affected by a drowsy driving incident, contact Aigen Injury Law for support and legal guidance. Our dedicated South Florida car accident lawyers are committed to advocating for your rights and can help you pursue the compensation you deserve.