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Study: Drowsy driving is nearly as dangerous as drunk driving

On Behalf of | Sep 10, 2021 | Personal Injury |

It’s hard to catch drowsy drivers in the act. The moment they’re in a crash, they tend to wake right up. They often don’t tell the police the real reason for their traffic violation or crash and will act like it was a complete accident.

That affects the statistics governments keep about the causes of traffic crashes. It’s relatively easy to identify when a drunk driver causes an accident – they can be tested. There’s no test for being tired.

So, it’s no surprise that drunk driving is blamed on official reports for far more accidents than drowsy driving. A recent study by the Sleep Foundation indicates that drowsy driving may be responsible for far more crashes than those reports show.

For one thing, at least 50% of U.S. adults say they’ve driven while they were drowsy. Fully 20% said they had fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year. One in 25 said they had fallen asleep at the wheel in the month prior to the survey.

How much lost sleep creates a dangerous driver?

According to the Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving creates similar hazards to drunk driving. Both can slow your reaction time and affect your decision-making. In controlled studies, people who were drunk and people who were fatigued got into similar numbers of crashes.

From those studies, researchers were able to determine that it doesn’t take much lost sleep to create a dangerous situation. You only have to be awake around 18 hours before your reaction time, vigilance, hand-eye coordination and ability to multi-task are all inhibited to the point that you’re comparable to a driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. After 20 hours of being awake, you’re comparable to a driver with a 0.08% blood alcohol content – the legal limit.

You don’t have to stay awake that long to be dangerous; however, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that sleeping six to seven hours a night doubles your risk of a crash. Slept less than five hours? Your risk is doubled again.

Who is most likely to be sleep-deprived?

According to the Sleep Foundation, people are at greatest risk of drowsy driving between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon. Driving alone and driving on a monotonous road can increase the risk.

Certain people are at greater risk of drowsy driving, too:

  • People who sleep less than 6 hours a night
  • People with sleep apnea or other sleep disorders
  • Young people
  • People who have consumed alcohol or medications
  • Commercial truck drivers

If you’re in a crash with a drowsy driver – especially a commercial truck driver – it’s important to hire an attorney who will go the extra mile for you.


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