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The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving is an issue that affects thousands of people every year. As society pushes people to be more productive and get more accomplished in smaller amounts of time, drivers are putting themselves in dangerous positions. In 2013, drowsy drivers caused an estimated 72,000 car accidents and 800 fatalities in the U.S.

Some researchers estimate the real number of drowsy driving crashes to be as high as 1.2 million per year. It’s difficult for researchers to report exact numbers, as not all drivers will admit to driving drowsy. In fatal accidents, it’s often impossible to determine whether the driver had dozed off behind the wheel before the crash. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does know that drowsy driving kills.

Common Causes of Driver Drowsiness

An obvious cause of driver drowsiness throughout the United States is lack of sleep. About 70 million Americans today suffer from sleeping disorders, preventing them from getting a good night’s sleep. Drivers with sleeping disorders may not realize they’re not getting rest, especially those with undiagnosed issues such as sleep apnea. Other drivers take prescription medications that make them drowsy, ignoring warnings not to operate machinery while on the drug. Most drivers know it’s dangerous to drive while tired, but they do it anyway to get to a destination on time.

Drowsy driving is especially a risk for commercial drivers, who have to travel long distances on a deadline. Some trucking companies even encourage drivers to push themselves to drive longer, offering bonuses to people who can beat their deadlines. Commercial drivers may have to work on off hours, including night shifts. Night shift workers often operate vehicles on little to no sleep, posing a threat to everyone else on the roadway. Trying to drive during a time of day when your body is typically asleep can be a recipe for disaster.

Drowsy Driving = Driving Impaired

You may not realize that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. A sleepy driver and an impaired river have a lot in common: slower reaction time, decreased awareness, and lack of judgment. Drowsiness affects decision-making, including a driver’s ability to choose the correct action to avoid a collision. Like a driver who is drunk or drugged, a tired driver is often unable to react to hazardous roadway conditions in time to prevent an accident.

Sleepiness inhibits short-term memory, makes it difficult to process information and distracts from driving. It decreases a driver’s performance and motivation, making him or her drive as if in a fog. Tiredness can also increase irritation, moodiness, and aggression behind the wheel and make a driver more emotional than usual. A driver does not have to fall asleep behind the wheel to cause a crash – simple sleepiness can be just as dangerous.

How to Avoid Driving Drowsy

The first step to avoiding driving while tired is to recognize signs that it’s time to pull over. Many drivers don’t realize they’re too tired to operate a vehicle until it’s too late. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you’re driving drowsy and need to take a break or switch drivers:

  • You can’t remember the last few miles you drove.
  • You yawn or blink frequently.
  • You’re drifting in and out of your lane.
  • Your vehicle keeps hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road.
  • You miss an exit you’re familiar with taking.

Drinking an energy drink or coffee isn’t enough to prevent drowsy driving. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is the only way to safely avoid this problem. If you notice yourself falling asleep behind the wheel, pull over someplace safe, like a rest stop, and take a nap. Sleeping for even 20 minutes can restore you enough to drive safely for a short period of time. If you’ve been injured because of a drowsy driver, call a qualified car accident attorney to see how you can get the compensation you need.

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