Drowsy Driving Major Threat to Road Safety

Nov 16, 2009

With all of the talk lately about texting and driving, it is important to shed some light on other major road safety issues facing American drivers.

The National Sleep Foundation’s 2009 Sleep in America poll shows that 1 percent, or as many as 1.9 million drivers, have had a car crash or a near miss due to drowsiness in the past year. 54 percent of drivers (105 million) have driven while drowsy at least once in the past year, and 28 percent (54 million) do so at least once per month, according to the study.


“People underestimate how tired they are and think that they can stay awake by sheer force of will,” said Thomas Balkin, chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. “This is a risky misconception. Would there be 1.9 million fatigue-related crashes or near misses if people were good at assessing their own ability to drive when fatigued?”


“The problem,” said Balkin, “is that although we are pretty good at recognizing when we feel sleepy, we do not recognize the process of actually falling asleep as it is happening. The process robs us of both self-awareness and awareness of our environment. All it takes is a moment of reduced awareness to cause a crash.”


Studies have shown that staying awake for more than 20 hours creates the same level of impairment as a blood alcohol content of 0.08, the legal limit for driving in all states.  A fatigued driver is just as impaired as a drunk driver, with the added danger of not being able to do anything to avoid a crash.


The following warning signs indicate that it’s time to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over and address your condition:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
  • Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
  • Unable to clearly remember the last few miles driven
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive.


Photo courtesy of Knapster under the Creative Commons License.