Many think of possibly falling asleep at the wheel as the primary danger posed by drowsy drivers, and often think of that as an unlikely prospect. However, operating motor vehicles when they have not gotten adequate rest creates significant hazards for the overly fatigued drivers themselves, as well as their passengers and the others with whom they share the road.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, federal estimates suggest that drowsy driving causes as many as 6,000 accident-related deaths every year in the U.S.
Who has the greatest risk of driving while drowsy?
All drivers who do not get the necessary amount of sleep have a risk of driving while drowsy. Most adults require a minimum of seven hours of sleep each day. Those who use medications that cause drowsiness and who suffer from untreated sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea, may also operate vehicles while overly tired or fatigued. Shift workers and those who drive commercial vehicles, such as tractor-trailers and buses, may also have an increased likelihood of driving while drowsy.
How does drowsiness affect drivers?
In addition to the possibility of falling asleep at the wheel, drowsiness causes other effects that may impair people’s ability to safely operate their vehicles. According to the National Safety Council, drowsiness causes motor vehicle operator impairments akin to those experienced by drivers under the influence of alcohol. This may include reducing drivers’ ability to pay attention, slowing their reaction times and decreasing their hazard awareness. After staying awake for 20 or more hours, these impairments may reach the level of having a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08%.