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The dangers of drowsy driving

Most people are aware of the dangers of driving distracted or drunk, but many of us have no qualms about driving while tired. However, these driving patterns can be just as dangerous.

Drowsy driving is defined by sleepiness or fatigue caused by someone not getting enough sleep, having an untreated sleep disorder, taking a drowsy medication or shift work. Drowsiness is dangerous because it:

  • Makes drivers less able to pay attention to the road
  • Slows reaction time if you must brake or steer suddenly
  • Affects a driver’s ability to make good decisions

Injuries and fatalities

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving caused 824 fatalities in 2015, and in 2013 it was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. Crashes occur most often between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late afternoon. Both time periods are when people are most likely to experience dips in their circadian rhythm, which is the human body’s internal clock that regulates speed.

Commercial drivers are often subjected to long shifts, especially overnight, which can put them at greater risk for driving while drowsy.

Ways to prevent drowsy driving

The easiest way to prevent drowsy driving is to get enough sleep, but for many people that is easier said than done. Here are some other suggestions that experts say work:

  • Develop good sleeping habits, such as sticking to a sleep schedule
  • If you have a sleep disorder or symptoms of a sleep disorder, talk to a physician about treatment
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or taking drowsy medications. Check the label of a prescription or even over-the-counter medications to confirm if drowsiness is a side effect
  • If you get sleepy while driving, drink one or two cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place, such as a well-lit, designated rest stop. Scientific studies have indicated this has been short to increase alertness for short periods


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