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Drowsy Driving vs. Driving Drunk: Not as Different as You Think

Have you ever gotten in your car after a long day of working back-to-back shifts and wished you could fall asleep right there in the seat? How many times have you been close to home at the end of a long road trip and had trouble keeping your eyes on the road? Have you ever noticed you keep dozing off while you’re driving?

Driving drowsy may not seem like a big deal but it can come with serious consequences. Read on to learn more about the dangers of drowsy driving and how you can prevent it.

Risks of Drunk Driving

Before we get started talking about the risks of drowsy driving, let’s review the risks of drunk driving. If your blood alcohol content is more than 0.08 percent, you’re legally driving drunk. But you can also be charged for driving under the influence if your BAC is anywhere over 0.00 percent.

Being drunk impairs your judgment and decision-making skills, which can make you take risks you normally wouldn’t. You also have slower reaction times that can cause you to hit things you normally would have been able to avoid. And your vision decreases, making it hard to spot dangers in time to stop.

Risks of Drowsy Driving

We all know alcohol impairs us, but surely being a little sleepy isn’t that bad, right? In fact, driving drowsy can be as dangerous as driving drunk, if not more so.

When you’re drunk, your reaction time slows by a tenth of a second. This may not sound like very much, but it means when you’re going 70 miles an hour, you’ll travel an additional twelve feet before you stop. Drowsy drivers will often experience microsleep—four- to five-second intervals where the driver is completely asleep—during which their car travels more than 100 yards.

Sleep deprivation also impairs your ability to make good choices, meaning you may do something like try to race a train when crossing railroad tracks. Drowsiness makes it harder to pay attention to the road. And if you’ve ever experienced burning or itching eyes, crossed vision, or blurred vision when you’re sleepy, you’ll know that drowsiness impairs your vision, too.

How Often Does Dozing Off Cause Crashes?

Given that drowsy driving carries so many of the same risks as drunk driving, the number of people who drive drowsy is shocking. Raise your hand if, sometime in the last month, you’ve driven while you were sleepy. One in every twenty-five adult drivers meets those qualifications.

These numbers are a serious danger on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving may cause as many as 6,000 deaths per year. For reference, that’s only 4,000 fewer deaths than drunk driving causes each year.

Who’s Likely to Drive Drowsy?

Who is it that’s causing all these drowsy driving crashes? Overworked soccer parents, sleep-deprived college kids, high-power business executives who are burning the midnight oil?

Commercial drivers (bus drivers, long-haul truckers, and tow truck drivers) account for many of the drowsy driving accidents each year. Shift workers who work long or overnight shifts and drivers on medications that make them sleepy account for another huge group. And drivers with sleep apnea or another form of sleep disorder are at greater risk, too.

What Constitutes Drowsy Driving?

Unlike with drunk driving, there is no blood sleepiness content that we can measure to determine a legal limit on drowsy driving. You have to listen to your body and the warning signs it is giving you before you drive. But there are some factors that put you at greater risk of drowsy driving.

If you get less than seven or eight hours of sleep on a routine basis, you’re driving drowsy. If you’re on a medication like Benadryl or Nyquil, you’re not at your most alert when you’re driving. If you find yourself yawning often while driving, or if you know you haven’t gotten enough sleep lately, you’re probably in danger of hurting yourself or others.

Warning Signs

So what are the warning signs your body will give you that you’re too sleepy to drive? As we mentioned, excessive yawning or blinking is a common one. If you’re having trouble keeping your eyes open or your mind on the road, you’re probably too sleepy to drive safely.

You may find that when you’re driving drowsy, you have trouble remembering the last few miles. You may miss your exit on the highway or drift out of your lane and hit the rumble strip often. If you notice any of these behaviors, pull over as soon as you safely can and either get some caffeine or rest. If possible, get someone else to drive instead while you take a quick nap.

Preventing Drowsy Driving

The most important thing you can do to prevent drowsy driving is to make sure you get as much sleep as you can every night. You should be sleeping seven or eight hours a night, and not just for your driving safety; long-term sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences. Sticking to a sleep schedule and being sure to use sleep hygiene are good ways to maximize the amount of rest you get.

If your partner says you snore or you notice you feel sleepy during the day, talk to your doctor about getting tested for a sleep disorder. Avoid drinking alcohol or taking medications that make you sleepy before you drive. If you have to take a medicine that makes you drowsy, try to make arrangements for someone else to drive during that time.

Dealing with a Drowsy Driving Accident Lawsuit

Driving when you’re a little sleepy may not sound all that dangerous, and most of us have done it at one point or another. But dozing off while driving can be a serious—even fatal—problem. Make sure you prioritize getting enough sleep and stop for rest when you need to.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a drowsy driving accident, get in touch with us at Jeffcoat Injury and Car Accident Lawyers. We are personal injury lawyers who can help you get compensation for the damage a drowsy driver may have caused you. If we don’t recover for you in injury cases, our services will be 100 percent free, so contact us today to discuss your case.

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