Holidays and the end of the year mean good food and time with family and seeing good friends. It also means working long hours to meet annual goals and finish big projects before you hit the road to see those friends. This can be a dangerous combination for drivers, one that we have yet to fully understand.
Unlike drunk driving or texting on the road, there’s no breathalyzer test or smartphone lock to tell someone that you were too tired to drive. US state reporting practices are inconsistent, but according to data from Australia, England, Finland, and other European nations, which have more consistent practices, drowsy driving represents 10 to 30 percent of all crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the result of drive fatigue each year. The National Sleep Foundation places the number closer to one million, since accidents are more likely to be attributed to alcohol or some other cause.
Think about it. How often do you get a good, full night’s sleep? Probably not as often as you would like. Do you work late? Have children? Drive for a living? Work shifts? All these conditions are more likely to lead to drowsy driving. Those most at risk include:
- Young people, especially men under 25 years old
- Shift workers and people who work long hours
- Commercial drivers, especially long-haul drivers
- People with undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders
- Business travelers
Staying awake for 18 hours straight—going out until 1 AM on the weekend after waking up at 7 AM the previous morning—means your reactions and judgement are as impaired as if you drank two beers in an hour (.05 blood alcohol content). Interrupted sleep or restless sleep can have the same effect.
Like most accidents, prevention is the best way to avoid drowsy driving. Don’t drive if you’re tired or on medication that causes drowsiness. Get regular, restful sleep, and make sure to get a good night’s sleep before taking a long drive. Take breaks about every 100 miles. If you can, drive with a friend who can take turns driving and keep an eye on you for signs of fatigue:
- Trouble focusing, daydreaming, wandering thoughts
- Yawning, trouble keeping your eyes open
- Drifting from your lane, missing exits
- Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive
- Slower reaction time, poor judgement
If this happens, find a safe place to pull over for a 15 to 20-minute nap if you need one. If you need to stop overnight, it’s better to arrive late for your holidays than to miss them completely—or worse—because of a drowsy driving accident.
Drowsy Driving Prevention Week is November 3-10.