You’d never think about getting behind the wheel after you’ve had too much to drink, yet you get behind the wheel when you are tired and you don’t think twice about it. Driving while sleepy sounds harmless enough. Going about your day when you are a little tired doesn’t appear to be hurting anyone. The truth is—it’s hazardous and risky. Sleepiness is a liability that doesn’t discriminate. It impairs your reaction time, your mental and physical ability and your capacity to make judgments, and process information.
- Sleepiness can impair driving performance as much or more so that alcohol (1)
- The estimated cost of automobile accidents attributed to sleepiness is between $29.2 and $37.9 billion (2)
- 27% of drivers admit to driving while they were “so sleepy that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open” within the past month (3) 1"
- One out of every six (16.5%) deadly traffic accidents, and one out of eight (12.5%) crashes requiring hospitalization of car drivers or passengers is due to drowsy driving (4)
1. (Dawson and Reid, 1997; Powell, 2001)
2. (Leger, 1994)
3. (AAA, 2010)
4. (AAA, 2010)
Although certain segments of the population are more prone to drowsy driving, such as commercial truck drivers, shift workers, young men, people are taking sedating medicines, or those with sleep disorders, drowsy driving is such a prevalent condition that “in many cases it is the average ‘driver next door’ who just happens to be putting in extra hours at work, adjusting to a new baby in the household, staying out late for a party, or trying to make it back home after an out of town trip,” noted one group of researchers. (Stutts, et al, 1999)
Commercial truck drivers are especially susceptible to drowsy driving. A congressionally mandated study of 80 long-haul truck drivers in the United States and Canada found that drivers averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day. (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 1996) It is no surprise that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that drowsy driving was probably the cause of more than half of crashes leading to a truck driver’s death. (NTSB, 1990a,b) For each truck driver fatality, another three to four people are killed. (NHTSA, 1994)
Sleep is food for the brain. During sleep, important body functions and brain activity occur. Skipping sleep can be harmful—even deadly, particularly if you are behind the wheel. Lack of sleep, especially from sleep apnea means you don’t look as good, feed as good, and you don’t perform as well. Remember: a brain that is hungry for sleep will get it, even when you don’t expect it.