At one point or another, we’ve all been guilty of tired driving. Maybe you stayed up past midnight but went the extra mile to work. Perhaps you’ve embarked on a lengthy road trip without stopping for a break. Or maybe the jet lag you’re experiencing from international travel has left your mind and body struggling to catch up. Your cup of coffee can only go so far to give you a temporary boost before your energy starts to decline.
As you continue to drive to your next destination, you begin to yawn relentlessly. Your eyelids start to get heavy. Then comes a split second of sleepiness as you begin to nod off. Suddenly you’re awakened by a jolt, as your head snaps back. You realize you just fell asleep at the wheel, but you’re confident you can stay awake for the stretch of your commute.
Unfortunately, drowsy driving happens far more than you think. While studies have made estimates as to how many drowsy driving incidents happen, the number of drivers who fall asleep behind the wheel has been a mystery – until now.
A new study reveals staggering results
Official statistics from the U.S. government have previously concluded that only 1 to 2 percent of all auto accidents involve drowsy driving. But considering the challenges in determining drowsy driving as a contributing factor in a crash, how could we expect the percentage to be any higher?
That’s why a recent study conducted by AAA reveals that accidents caused by drowsy driving may be eight times more common than previous estimates. The data were collected as part of the federally-funded Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP 2 NDS). A total of 3,593 drivers from six locations in the U.S. took part in the study. Their behavior and driving habits were monitored by in-vehicle cameras and other means of real-time data collection.
The video footage compiled to piece together this in-depth study captures the signs of drowsy driving just moments before a crash. It starts with a yawn. Then the driver’s eyes close for a split second. The driver perks up temporarily until the next microsleep – one that could cause a devastating traffic accident. The results of the study were determined by the percentage of time the driver’s eyes were closed. The study concluded that roughly 8.8 to 9.5 percent of all auto accidents are caused by drowsy driving.
And even without video footage, other evidence may exist which suggests the driver fell asleep behind the wheel before a crash. A lack of tire marks on the road may show evidence that the driver failed to slow down or stop to avoid an accident. Other factors, such as the driver’s BAC and lack of cell phone use, may also help build a case against a driver for falling asleep at the wheel. For example, if a driver was not intoxicated at the time of the crash, the driver may have instead fallen asleep. These clues may not confirm that the driver was tired, but they can bring an investigation closer to determining the actual cause.
Where the risk exists
A total of 29 percent of drivers polled by AAA admitted to driving while drowsy. The study concludes that 9.5 percent of all auto accidents are caused by drowsy driving.
Drowsy driving can happen to anyone, at any time. Our minds and bodies don’t always have the luxury of choosing when it’s time to shut down. When you start to experience these symptoms, it’s time to pull over and take a rest:
- Heavy eyelids and difficulty keeping eyes open
- Losing memory of the last few miles driven
- Inability to focus
- Veering out of your lane
- Constant yawning
- Those mostly at risk of drowsy driving include:
Those who are most at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel include:
- Younger people: In a 2012 study conducted by AAA, approximately one in seven licensed drivers ages 16 to 24 admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at least once in the course of a year. Younger people are more likely to get less sleep and in some cases pull all-nighters. They are also more likely to take dangerous risks.
- Commercial truck drivers: Truck drivers often spend long hours on the road. Fortunately, new federal laws require commercial truck drivers to take mandatory rest breaks and to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) as part of a widespread effort to prevent truckers from falling asleep at the wheel.
- Employees who work night shifts or rotating shifts: Working night shifts or rotating shifts can throw off our circadian rhythm, the natural clock that determines our time of wakefulness and sleepiness.
- People with sleep disorders: Sleep disorders such as insomnia, hypersomnia, sleep apnea, circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders, parasomnias and sleep movement disorders can put drivers at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. In some cases, people with sleep disorders are prohibited from driving.
- Business travelers: Those who travel across several time zones can experience jet lag, which can severely affect a person’s natural sleep cycle.
How you can prevent drowsy driving
While some drivers are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than others, drowsy driving is a universal risk to all motorists. However, there are ways it can be prevented.
- First and foremost, there is no substitute for adequate rest. Sleep is the most effective way to prevent drowsy driving. According to a 2013 Gallop poll, most Americans aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep, which is seven to nine hours per night.
- Long distance travelers should take rest breaks every two hours or 100 miles in order to remain alert throughout their journey. Always give yourself extra time to reach your destination, as you will need this time to make stops and take naps if needed.
- Avoid driving between midnight and 6 AM, as it can throw off your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s natural clock of wakefulness and sleepiness, which reaches its peak between 2 and 4 AM. It also programs your mind and body to crave a rest from around 1 to 3 PM.
- It takes caffeine about 30 minutes to enter your bloodstream. Furthermore, a cup of coffee is only a temporary fix and shouldn’t be relied on for long-distance travel. The effects only last roughly two to three hours, before you experience a debilitating crash – figuratively speaking.
- Bringing along a passenger may allow you to take a break and let someone else take the wheel. Holding a conversation with someone can help keep you awake, as long as you’re not distracted and your eyes are on the road.
- Never get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or prescription drugs. Alcohol can increase your likelihood of falling asleep, especially during evening hours. Some prescription drugs, especially those with a sedative effect, should not be taken before driving.
- Drive defensively. If you see someone veering out of his or her lane, keep your distance. Perhaps you could briefly honk your horn to alert them if you notice them nodding off.
Whether commuting to and from work or embarking on a long-distance journey, do your best to practice safe and responsible driving habits. But even then, accidents can happen unpredictably. And a crash with a drowsy driver may be nearly impossible to avoid.
In the event of an accident caused by a drowsy driver in Georgia, you need an experienced Macon auto accident attorney on your side who will thoroughly investigate your crash. With over two decades of experience helping injured motorists seek justice throughout Georgia, Macon attorney Jon R. Hawk will fight for you every step of the way.
Contact the Law Offices of Jon R. Hawk today, or simply call (478) 757-6536.