Driving while sleep deprived is quite dangerous and is responsible for thousands of car accidents each year. According to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 100,000 reported drowsy driving accidents happen every year, causing more than 50,000 injuries and 800 deaths. It is likely the number of accidents is higher, as it is difficult to determine if a driver was sleep deprived in all accident cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowsy driving is considered just as dangerous as drunk driving. Night shift workers are more at risk for causing an accident on their route home, especially if they do not go directly home and continue to be awake for several more hours. Studies have shown that individuals who are awake for more than 20 hours exhibit the same impairments as someone with a 0.08 blood alcohol content (BAC) level.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recommends getting at least seven hours of sleep to maintain optimal alertness. In a sleep deprivation study, they found five to six hours of sleep in a 24-hour period doubles the risk of a car crash, four to five hours of sleep quadruples the risk, and you are 12 times more likely to be in a car accident if you have had less than four hours of sleep.
How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Drivers?
There have been several studies involving driving simulations that focus on the behavior of sleep-deprived motorists. In 2015, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety conducted a study using real vehicle driving and drivers in various stages of sleep deprivation, and their results were alarming.
The study focused on 16 night shift workers operating vehicles on a closed track at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute. To maintain safety, an observer was always present in the passenger seat, equipped with an emergency brake and the ability to intervene and take control of the vehicle if necessary during the test.
To gauge the drivers’ alertness, researchers focused on eye movement and length of blinking, with the following results:
- Almost half of the drivers were terminated early because they could not safely operate the vehicle. Participants showed an increase in drowsiness and an increased risk of near-crashes.
- Over one-third of the drivers required emergency braking maneuvers.
- Evidence of sleep impairment was observed in the first 15 minutes of driving and increased with the length of time driving. Drivers exhibited numerous instances of microsleep, falling asleep for three seconds or less, after 30 minutes of driving, and near-crashes and test interventions happened consistently after 30 minutes of drive time.
- Drivers demonstrated higher rates of crossing lanes and ignoring road markings immediately following their night shift.
- All drivers exhibited longer blinking periods and eye movements during the tests.
What Are the Signs of Drowsy Driving?
Whether you are driving or a passenger, recognizing the signs of drowsy driving and addressing them before an accident occurs could save your life. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the following are signs that a motorist is too fatigued to safely drive:
- Difficulty keeping the eyes open and frequent yawning.
- Instances of microsleep, nodding off, and keeping the head up.
- Missing turns, changes in traffic patterns, and road signs.
- Difficulty maintaining speed.
- Drifting out of the lane or crossing into medians or side of the road.
- No memory of driving the last few miles
How Can I Prevent a Drowsy Driving Accident?
No one should drive when sleep deprived, however, circumstances are not always ideal, especially for those who work rotating or night shifts. However, there are measures you can take to minimize the risk of a drowsy driving accident:
- Carpooling: Having others in the car is shown to help drivers remain more alert. Sharing the commute with coworkers also allows you to have alternate drivers if you feel you are too fatigued to safely operate your car. Carpooling has other benefits as well. Developing a rotating carpool lessens the driving burden for all of you, decreases the chance of an accident, and lowers the cost of daily commuting.
- Shorten drive time: The longer you drive while sleep deprived, the more at risk you are for an accident. If you and others have long commutes, consider staying in a hotel or share an apartment for part of the week, or relocate to be nearer your place of employment.
- Maintain a schedule: Keeping to a routine helps both mind and body to perform better. Going to bed at the same time each night and rising at the same time each morning helps keep you more rested and alert. Changing schedules, staying up too late, or only getting a few hours of sleep creates more fatigue, brain fog, and impairs the mind.
- Napping: A power nap can go a long way in helping to prevent drowsy driving. Motor skills and alertness improve with 20 minutes of sleep, and 30 to 60 minutes improves the brain’s ability to problem-solve that allows you to make split-second reactions.
- Take public transit: Switch to public transportation if available rather than driving yourself. Taking a bus, metro system, or train eliminates any risk of causing a car accident when you are fatigued. Utilizing public transportation may prove to be less expensive than driving yourself and the possibility of allowing you to get a little extra sleep during the trip.
- Engage your mind: A fully engaged brain helps you stay alert. Conversation with passengers, singing along to the radio, listening to a podcast or news, and chatting on the phone with a friend all help you to remain focused and more alert while behind the wheel.
- Change your driving habits: When you know you are fatigued, change the way you drive. Reduce your speed, put more distance between you and the vehicles in front of you, and pay closer attention to the others around you.
- Pull over: If you are experiencing sings of drowsy driving, pull off the road, park in a safe location, and allow yourself a little sleep time before continuing to drive. Even 30 minutes of slumber benefits your ability to focus and improves your reaction time.
- Avoid alcohol: Consuming alcohol should always be in moderation and under the legal limit if you have to drive, but drinking alcohol while fatigued is far riskier. Consuming even one alcoholic beverage while sleep deprived can heighten impairments.
- Avoid large meals: Avoid eating a heavy meal before driving. A full stomach or a meal with high carbohydrates increases drowsiness.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Help Clients Injured in Collisions Involving Sleep-Deprived Drivers
Driving while sleep deprived is dangerous. Many drowsy driving accidents result in serious injuries, altering the lives of everyone involved. If you have been involved in a car accident due to a sleep-deprived driver, our experienced Virginia Beach car accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC can help. Call us at 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore, Virginia. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.