We have all read about the dangers of drunk driving and, more recently, texting while driving. Both activities impair a driver's ability to quickly recognize and react to dangers ahead of them. According to a recent study, drowsy driving is also a highly dangers activity that can lead to serious, if not deadly, car accidents.
This month, the California Highway Patrol (or CHP) has launched a week long campaign designed to alert drivers to the dangers of driving while tired. In a study conducted by the National Highway Institute, driving while sleepy may be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Researchers found that 17 hours of being awake is equivalent to a .05 blood alcohol reading. In many states like Illinois, a driver is legally intoxicated if their blood alcohol level is .08 or higher.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, falling asleep results in 100,000 auto accidents a year. Of those sleep related car accidents, over 1,500 were fatal. When not fatal, over 70,000 sleep related auto accidents result in injuries--some of which involved permanent brain and spinal cord injuries.
Nearly all of us have felt drowsy while behind the wheel. Many of us have tried various tricks to keep awake like rolling the windows down, blaring the radio, or slapping our face. These tactics may be good for a minute or two but they do not address the root cause, namely sleep inducing chemicals in the brain which cause drivers to nod off.
So what should drivers do if they become drowsy while driving? Experts say sleepy drivers should pull over at the nearest exit and take a 15 to 30 minute nap. Other safety measures include getting sufficient sleep the night before and drinking caffeinated drinks, when necessary, to increase alertness. On long trips, drivers should travel with a companion, when possible, taking turns driving every hour or two. Finally, drivers should avoid things that increase sleepiness like eating excessively, drinking alcohol, and taking medications that cause drowsiness.
Mercury News, CHP Launches Campaign To Fight Driver Drowsiness, November 12, 2012.