Drowsy driving can certainly elevate the risk of a crash. In fact, it can be considered a form of distracted driving. Similarly to distracted driving, driving when overly tired causes your mental resources to be focused on things other than the road.
Not getting enough sleep before setting off on a road trip or daily commute can be more dangerous than you think. Nearly 800 people died in drowsy driving crashes in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Therefore, it is crucial that you recognize when you’re nodding off behind the wheel.
The signs of sleepiness while driving include increased blinking, longer blink period, swerving, delayed reaction time, slower eye movement and poor decision-making. Falling asleep at red lights or while stopped in traffic are dead giveaways that you are too tired to drive. If you can identify these signs in yourself, you should not be driving. Instead, take public transportation or ask someone else to drive.
If you must drive when you notice these symptoms in yourself, there are a few tactics you can employ to make yourself more alert behind the wheel. These include stopping to take a nap, drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, talking with passengers or adjusting the radio or air-conditioning. Although these strategies can help, they are not perfect solutions to preventing a potential crash.
“Stopping driving to take a nap may be the safest and most effective solution to drowsy driving, since naps have been proven to cut down on driving impairment in such situations,” says Dr. Muhammad Hamadeh, medical director of the Sleep Center at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “Research has told us that in addition to curbing drowsiness, napping can be effective for maintaining prolonged attention and improving memory and learning.”
According to Dr. Hamadeh, about seven hours of sleep is correlated with safe driving. However, many people are not lucky enough to catch this many z’s each night.
A culture change when it comes to the importance of sleep could be the most effective solution to this dangerous issue. Too many people put sleep on the back burner to cater to their busy and demanding lives each day, disregarding the safety and health concerns that can come along with neglecting to sleep enough each night.
Understanding the dangers of sleepy driving is an important step to making the road a safer place for everyone.