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Picture yourself driving with your friends on a Friday night. You and your friends are going out together to have fun, wherever that place might be.
All is normal until you suddenly start feeling tired. So, you doze a little.
While sleeping, you feel something start to turn a little. You wake up and suddenly realize you are still behind the wheel.
CRASH! Your car totaled another vehicle because you napped while driving, and now you have no one to blame but yourself.
This is an uncommon sight, but the chances of sleeping while driving or seeing someone doing so are never zero.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 4% of all adults in 19 states and D.C. say they have “fallen asleep while driving at least once in the previous 30 days.”
In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 633 fatalities in 2020 caused by drowsy driving. While this pales in comparison to drunken driving, which had 11,654 deaths in 2020, this statistic is still alarming.
Drowsy driving does not always have to involve being asleep while driving. According to the Sleep Foundation, being sleep-deprived is equivalent to being drunk.
The Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual explains that “when you are tired, you react slower, your judgment and your vision are impaired, and you have problems with understanding and remembering things,” similar to driving under the influence.
Having 18 hours of sleep deprivation is like a blood-alcohol content of 0.05%. 24 hours without sleep is about as much as having a blood-alcohol content of 0.10%, the legal limit in Pennsylvania. Thus, being sleep-deprived is enough to impair your driving abilities.
Many auto manufacturers and researchers worldwide have raised awareness of the problem. They are currently finding ways to implement new safety features in future vehicles based on “physiological, performance-based, behavioral and cognitive, and subjective” categories, such as electroencephalograms and electrooculograms, which capture brain signals and drowsiness respectively, as well as finding noticeable lane shifts while driving.
Despite these advanced safety measures, the NHTSA still recommends the following steps to prevent drowsy driving:
- “Getting adequate sleep on a daily basis is the only true way to protect yourself against the risks of driving when you’re drowsy. Experts urge consumers to make it a priority to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night.”
- “Before the start of a long family car trip, get a good night’s sleep, or you could put your entire family and others at risk.”
- “Many teens do not get enough sleep at a stage in life when their biological need for sleep increases, which makes them vulnerable to the risk of drowsy-driving crashes, especially on longer trips. Advise your teens to delay driving until they’re well-rested.”
- “Avoid drinking any alcohol before driving. Consumption of alcohol interacts with sleepiness to increase drowsiness and impairment.”
- “Always check your prescription and over-the-counter medication labels to see if drowsiness could result from their use.”
- “If you take medications that could cause drowsiness as a side effect, use public transportation when possible.”
- “If you drive, avoid driving during the peak sleepiness periods (midnight – 6 a.m. and late afternoon). If you must drive during the peak sleepiness periods, stay vigilant for signs of drowsiness, such as crossing over roadway lines or hitting a rumble strip, especially if you’re driving alone.”
Most importantly, the Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual recommends that “the best thing to do if you begin to feel tired while driving is to stop driving,” simply by pulling over to the side of the road and napping.
Ben Slomowitz is a fourth-year media & culture major. firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Drowsy Driving.” NHTSA, https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving.
- “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/features/drowsy-driving.html.
- “Drunk Driving.” NHTSA, https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving.
- Farbos, Bruno. “What Is Being Done To Solve The Drowsy Driving Problem?” Ergonomics Canada, Jan. 2017, pp. 12–16. EBSCOhost, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=asn&AN=135252215&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
- “Learning to Drive.” Pennsylvania Driver’s Manual, Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation, Harrisburg, PA, 2008, pp. 36–37.
- Newton, Larissa. “Tired and Driving? Take a Break – Drive Awake.” Article, PennDOT, 6 Nov. 2017, https://www.penndot.pa.gov/PennDOTWay/pages/Article.aspx?post=62.
- Suni, Eric. “Drowsy Driving: Dangers and How to Avoid It.” Drowsy Driving: Dangers and How To Avoid It | Sleep Foundation, Sleep Foundation, 18 Apr. 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/drowsy-driving.