An emerging, nationwide study of driving habits reveals that sleepy drivers present a serious risk to other drivers.
The study found, said The New York Times, that just over four percent of adults admit to having had fallen asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days, specifically those who slept less than six hours per day and those who snore; snoring is a sign of a potential sleep disorder. The researchers believe the percentage is greater than reported, given that people who do drop off momentarily might not realize that they have fallen asleep at the wheel or may not recall that they dozed later on, said The New York Times.According to experts cited by The New York Times, in 2009, some 730 fatal motor vehicle accidents involved a driver who was sleepy or dozing; another 30,000 non-fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver. The experts noted that accidents involving sleepy drivers are likelier to involve fatalities or lead to injuries because sleepy or sleeping drivers tend to either not brake or to veer off the road before crashing.
Anne G. Wheaton, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), led the study of147,000 adults in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Participants were asked detailed questions about their daily activities—driving, sleep, and work habits—said The New York Times. Dr. Wheaton and colleagues discovered that men were likelier to report drowsy driving than women, a behavior that got lower as people got older. Of those questioned, at least five percent of adults from 18 to 44 years of age admitted to drowsy driving, versus 1.7 percent of those aged 65 or older. The findings appear in the latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The researchers discovered that, independently, short sleep times and snoring were linked to an increased likelihood of sleepy driving. Dr. Wheaton pointed out that people who fall asleep at the wheel may do so quickly and for a brief time—the driver might not be aware he or she fell asleep at the wheel. “It doesn’t mean that you put your head down and start snoring,” she told The New York Times, adding that “You might just close your eyes for a second or two. One of the warning signs is when you have trouble remembering the last few miles that you’ve driven, or when you miss an exit. It could be because you actually fell asleep for a second.”
Just being tired and sleep deprived can be seriously problematic, with associated reduced reaction times and poor judgment. “If you’re awake for 24 hours, that’s the blood alcohol equivalent of 0.1 percent, which is higher than the legal limit in all the states,” Dr. Wheaton told The New York Times. “You can’t really count on caffeine,” Dr. Wheaton added. “The safest thing is to look for a place that’s secure where you can take a quick nap,” she said.
According to the CDC, warning signs of drowsy driving include frequent yawning or blinking, difficulty remembering the past few miles driven, missing an exit, lane drifting, or hitting a rumble strip. The CDC warns that if a driver experiences any of these warning signs, the driver should pull over to rest or change drivers. Turning up the radio or opening the window are not effective ways to keep a drowsy driver alert, the CDC pointed out.