Drowsy Driving – A Public Health Concern

girl on cellphone after a car crash

The Centers for Disease Control now categorize drowsy driving as a significant public health concern, because of the injury risk that it causes. The results of drowsy driving can be tragic, and there are many factors that contribute to the problem.

How Often Does Drowsy Driving Happen?

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, over 79,000 reported accidents which involved fatigued drivers happened over a four year period beginning in 2009. Since this number is based solely on official police reports, safety advocates say this amount is significantly underestimated.

The NHTSA estimates that twenty to twenty-five percent of all traffic accidents may be fatigue-related. This could account for over one million crashes and 8,000 fatalities. In a survey of nearly 150,000 adults over the age of 18, four percent reported that they had fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once in the last 30 days. Drivers who snored or typically slept fewer than 6 hours per day were more likely to report falling asleep while on the road.

Drowsy Driving as a Public Health Issue

By treating drowsy driving as a public health issue, the same attention can be devoted to it as was paid to drunk driving in past years. Some consider sleep deprivation to be the equivalent of intoxication. By attaching a stigma to drowsy driving, individuals may no longer look at lack of sleep as inevitable and will take positive measures to ensure that they get enough rest each night.

Employers may be partially to blame for the prevalence of drowsy drivers. In some work environments, working late is considered a sign of a good employee. Some employers are now rewarding employees that get more sleep, in an effort to combat the problem, by offering contests for those who track their sleep using wearable sleep-tracking devices.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Most sleep-related accidents happen during the daytime, rather than at night. Mid-afternoon drowsiness is common among the sleep-deprived, and this is particularly dangerous because so many divers are on the road and because drowsiness may not be a major concern for drivers during the daytime hours.

Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable to falling asleep behind the wheel. These at-risk groups are:

  • Young people- Because they are young, certain drivers feel like they can do anything, but more than half of all accidents caused by the sleep-deprived are caused by drivers under the age of 25.
  • Night-shift workers- Many night-shift workers have disrupted sleep patterns and suffer from sleep deprivation. Accidents are more likely to occur on the way home from a shift.
  • Those who suffer from sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea- Sleep apnea causes pauses in breathing that interrupt deep sleep. Most sufferers don’t realize that they have the disorder, which increases the risk of traffic accidents.
  • Commercial drivers- Those who drive vehicles such as tow trucks, tractor trailers and commercial buses are often required to drive long distances, contributing to sleepiness.
  • Drivers who take certain medications- Some medications cause daytime drowsiness, making driving dangerous.

The Signs of Drowsy Driving

Because drowsy driving is the cause for so many automobile accidents, it’s important to know the signs, which include:

  • Frequently blinking or yawning
  • Difficulty recalling the last few miles on the road
  • Missing stops or exits
  • Drifting out of a lane
  • Hitting rumble strips
  • A slowed reaction time
  • Trouble paying attention to the road

Drowsy Driving Solutions

Many strategies have been suggested for the reduction of drowsy driving, such as:

  • Requiring questions about drowsy driving to be included on state driving licensure tests.
  • Screening truck drivers and other commercial vehicle operators for sleep apnea and requiring those with positive results to receive treatment.
  • Installing additional rumble strips on highways.
  • Changing laws to make driving on less than two hours of sleep in the previous 24 hours a punishable offense.

Drowsy driving can be prevented by:

  • Getting enough rest and making sleep a priority
  • Developing a regular sleep schedule and healthy sleeping habits
  • Seeking treatment for possible sleep disorders and speaking to a physician about snoring or other warning signals.
  • Avoiding the consumption of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
  • Checking the label on medications or speaking to a pharmacist to ensure that drowsiness is not a side-effect.

Drowsy driving is not likely to be a problem that will be solved overnight. The recent attention given to drowsy and distracted driving, however, may result in more awareness and a reduction in accidents. Those who have been injured as the result of a traffic incident, who believe that driver fatigue could be a factor, can consult with a Las Vegas auto attorney for additional information regarding the liability of drowsy drivers.