If you’re like most people in the United States, you don’t always get enough sleep. Many of us have come to accept being short on sleep as an ordinary part of life, and have even become accustomed to getting through the day that way. Unfortunately, we’re not doing a great job of it. 37% of drivers responding to one National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) survey said they’d fallen asleep on the road at some point in their driving careers–more than half of them while traveling on high-speed roads like interstates.
So, it’s no surprise that the NHTSA also says drowsy driving plays a role in about 100,000 traffic crashes each year. Those crashes result in hundreds of fatalities and tens of thousands of injuries each year. And, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that the number of fatigued driving accidents is actually much higher: about 328,000 per year.
How Much Sleep is Too Little?
One reason sleep deprivation causes so many car accidents is that even a small sleep deficit can make a significant difference in the likelihood of a crash. While many people consider six hours of sleep to be in the normal range and wouldn’t consider it risky to drive at all, the data disagrees.
A person who has slept at least six hours but less than seven during the preceding 24 hours is about 30% more likely to have contributed to a traffic accident than one who slept at least seven hours. And, the impact increased dramatically from there. Sleeping at least five but less than six hours nearly doubles the risk compared with a driver who slept at least seven hours. And, a driver who slept less than four of the previous 24 hours is more than 11 times as likely to contribute to a crash.
An earlier study cited in that report revealed that the impact of being awake for 18.5 hours was similar to that of a .05% blood alcohol level. At 21 hours, the effects were similar to a .08% blood alcohol level–the “legal limit” in Georgia and most states.
Many Drowsy Drivers Know They Shouldn’t Be on the Road
While miscalculation leads to many drowsy driving accidents, many drivers are aware of the risks. 70% of drivers responding to one survey said that getting behind the wheel while sleepy was a serious threat to their safety, and 96% said it was unacceptable. Still, 27% of those same drivers admitted to having driven when they were so tired that they were having trouble keeping their eyes open.
11% said they’d nodded off in traffic in the past year, and 4% reported having drifted off at the wheel in the past month. With more than 7,000,000 licensed drivers in Georgia, that could translate to nearly 800,000 drivers falling asleep at the wheel in a year.
Avoiding the Dangers of Fatigued Driving
Of course, the best way to avoid the risks of drowsy driving is to ensure that you always get a full night’s sleep. Being well rested offers many other mental and physical health benefits, too. But, that’s easier said than done for many Americans.
The next line of defense is awareness. First, of course, that means recognizing that driving while tired is dangerous. Then, it means being vigilant about signs of fatigue on the road. Some examples include:\
- Repeated yawning
- Trouble keeping eyes open
- Zoning out on the road
- Missing exits or road signs
- Drifting across lane markers or onto the shoulder
- Unintentionally slowing down
- Having trouble keeping your head up
When you notice these signs, it’s time to take action. Ideally, that means getting off the road.
Some other measures that may help avoid reaching the danger point include:
- Getting out of the car periodically on long drives–breaking the monotony and moving around can be refreshing. About once every 100 miles is a good rule of thumb, but of course you’ll want to stop sooner if you notice that you’re losing focus or feeling sleepy.
- Drinking something caffeinated–coffee or a caffeinated soft drink can increase alertness. But, the impact isn’t immediate and is only temporary. Experts suggest waiting about 20 minutes for the caffeine to kick in before getting back on the road, and then only if you’re feeling more alert.
- Recruiting help from your passenger–of course, switching off turns at the wheel can be a big help. But, even if your passenger can’t help with the driving, he or she can keep you engaged to improve alertness. And, your passenger may notice before you do that you’re showing signs of drowsiness.
Driving While Fatigued is Negligent
We can’t always control how much sleep we get, but getting behind the wheel while too tired to drive safely is always a choice. So is staying on the road when you’re nodding off, feeling bleary, or experiencing other signs of fatigue.
If you’ve been injured by a driver who shouldn’t have been on the road, you may be entitled to compensation. Talk to an experienced Atlanta car accident lawyer to learn more about your rights and options.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.