Indepth on Drowsy Driving

Sep 26, 2013
Categories: Driving · Safety
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You’re a good driver, right? You don’t text and drive, you check your mirrors often, always wear a seatbelt, and you’d never even think about getting into the car after having a few drinks.
That’s a good thing. Driving around in a hunk of metal and plastic is an enormous responsibility, and one that needs to be taken seriously. A small mistake can mean a fatal error, for you or someone else.
So, why is it that we feel it’s okay to get into our cars and drive around when we can barely keep our eyelids open?

Might As Well Be Drunk

We work too much, sleep too little, and eat garbage that makes us tired. It’s a fact. That’s what society thinks is normal, for better or for worse–and despite all the social and economic progress we’ve made from depriving ourselves of sleep, we’re putting ourselves at risk each and every day we get behind the wheel without a good night’s rest.

Drowsy driving is the second leading cause of motor vehicle accidents, right behind alcohol. Lab research done on drowsy driving has revealed that driving while you’re tired can literally be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.

One study often referenced by the Canadian Sleep Society involved a group of healthy, young adults who were put behind the wheel of a driving simulator after being awake for only 18 hours. Their performance demonstrated impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 50 mg%, or just under the legal BAC limit.

That’s pretty darn scary when you consider that sleep deprivation adds up as you continue to deprive your body of the rest it needs.

The Wheel is Not Your Pillow

Repeated studies of surveyed Canadians have revealed that 50% of drivers will admit to driving drowsy in a given year, while up to 25% report that they’ve actually fallen asleep at the wheel–even if it’s just for a “split second.”

The sad reality is, that split second can be the difference between life and death.

Sleep deprivation means that your reaction time is slowed–and no driver is exempt from this truth, despite how “good” they might feel after only four or five hours of sleep each night. The science–and tragic highway fatality reports each year–say otherwise.

Are You At Risk?

It’s too easy to say “but my situation is different!” and dismiss statistics as irrelevant to us. But take a look at the list below, and think honestly about whether you may be at risk for drowsy driving:

  • Chronic sleep deprivation (and you don’t feel “refreshed” upon waking)
  • Extended highway driving
  • Driving beyond 2 hours without taking a break
  • Driving alone, especially at night
  • Regular driving between the hours of 2pm-5pm and 10pm-6am
  • Rotating shift worker (shift workers tend to have a higher rate of daytime sleepiness!)
  • Undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea
  • Any amount of alcohol or medications that may cause sleepiness

Go Back to Bed!

If you suspect you’re at risk for drowsy driving, do yourself a favour and get some extra rest each night! Even twenty minutes can make a world of difference–start small and work your way up to a good night’s sleep.

In the meantime, there are things you can do if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve climbed behind the wheel, started driving… and realized that you are, in fact, about to fall asleep at the wheel.

  • Find someplace to pull over! Take a 15-20 minute nap before getting back on the road.
  • Consume 100-200mg of caffeine. This is a short-term solution, however–and remember that it can take up to 30 minutes before the caffeine hits your system.
  • Find a passenger! If there’s someone who can drive with you to your destination, bring them along and engage your mind through conversation. Or even better, have them take the wheel for you!

What’s the moral of the story here? There’s no excuse… so take a nap!


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