What Are the Dangers of Falling Asleep at the Wheel?

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Drowsy driving is a significant issue across America. In such a competitive and busy age, drivers are pushing themselves more to multitask and stay up late. Long hours on the road and heavy traffic can contribute to driver drowsiness, ultimately leading to related car accidents. As many as 6,000 fatal car accidents may stem from drowsy driving each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falling asleep at the wheel is one of the deadliest driver mistakes on the road.

Drowsy Driving = Impaired Driving

Studies on driver fatigue have found that drowsiness can impair a driver as much as drugs or alcohol. Driving after 18 hours with no sleep is the impairment equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05%. If a driver goes a full 24 hours with no sleep, he or she is driving with the equivalent of a BAC of 0.10% – 0.02% over the legal alcohol limit. Many drivers do not equate drowsy driving with drunk driving, yet both can be deadly in the amount they impair a driver’s abilities.

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Diminished reflexes
  • Blurred vision
  • Mental fuzziness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble focusing
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Lack of good judgment
  • Falling asleep behind the wheel

A drowsy driver may not have the cognitive abilities to safely make decisions behind the wheel. Physical sluggishness can also impair the driving ability, preventing the driver from braking or swerving fast enough to avoid an accident. A drowsy driver may drift in and out of lanes, drive too slowly, speed, abruptly hit the brakes, run red lights and engage in other dangerous behaviors that could cause a serious accident. These mistakes are similar to those an intoxicated driver may make.

Common Drowsy Driving Accidents

Driver fatigue can take away a driver’s ability to safely control a vehicle, stop promptly, stay within a lane and obey traffic laws. A drowsy driver heightens the odds of a serious and deadly motor vehicle accident in California. A drowsy driver could cause any type of car accident, but some are more commonly connected to driver fatigue than others.

  • Head-on collisions
  • Rear-end collisions
  • Single vehicle accidents
  • Sideswipe accidents
  • Red-light running accidents
  • Intersection accidents
  • Bicycle and pedestrian collisions

If you notice a driver swerving, braking erratically, breaking roadway rules or dozing off behind the wheel, keep your distance and report the unsafe driver to the police. Call 911 and give the dispatcher the other driver’s vehicle description and license plate number. Then, stay safely away while the police catch up to the dangerous driver to investigate the situation.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

The dangers of falling asleep behind the wheel are extreme. It is every driver’s responsibility to prevent drowsy driving by recognizing the signs and staying home when it is too dangerous to drive. Symptoms of a drowsy driver include frequent or long blinks, yawning often, missing an exit, drifting out of a lane, hitting a rumble strip or trouble remembering the last few miles driven. Preventing drowsy driving requires diligence on the driver’s part.

  • Getting enough sleep before a drive
  • Developing healthy sleeping habits
  • Treating conditions such as sleep apnea
  • Avoiding medications that can cause drowsiness
  • Pulling over for a rest break if you notice signs of drowsy driving
  • Avoiding long drives alone or late-night shifts

Drive with a buddy that is committed to staying awake with you on long trips. Try to drive during the day rather than at night, when your body is used to being awake. If you notice signs of drowsiness, pull over someplace safe and take a nap. Coffee, energy drinks or sugar will not mitigate the risk of driver fatigue. There is no safe substitute for sleep as a drowsy driver.