Driving Drowsy Comparable to Driving Drunk, AAA Study Finds

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has released a new study that shows drowsy, tired drivers are as at risk for an accident as drunk drivers. Based on an analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s crash data from 1999-2008,  the study shows that almost 4,500 fatal accidents each year are due to sleep drivers – almost 17 percent of all fatal crashes in the country. Additionally, AAA found that more than 40 percent of drivers admitted to falling asleep or dozing off while behind the wheel.

With these numbers, it is worth noting that defensive driving is more important than ever, as is getting sufficient sleep and not driving while exhausted. Because it is as dangerous as driving drunk or under the influence, drowsy driving can be just as fatal, which means it can carry similar consequences.

Protect yourself and your family by making good decisions while driving. Suggestions, courtesy of US News and World Report, to avoid drowsy driving and potential accidents include:

1. Have a designated driver when you’re sleep deprived. We have one if we drink too much, so why not when we sleep too little? Medical residents coming off a 30-hour shift shouldn’t be getting behind the wheel any more than someone who’s had a few drinks.

2. Or use public transportation. If you’ve had an unexpected sleepless night, take the train or bus to work the next day. You might even get a few winks on the ride in—without the risk of running a red light.

3. Take medication labels seriously. It’s obvious but worth emphasizing. Never get behind the wheel if the label tells you not to “operate heavy machinery” i.e. a forklift or a Honda. And give yourself a little leeway. Some over-the-counter antihistamines cause drowsiness for four to six hours, for example, but they could still leave some folks drowsy even eight hours later.

4. Watch out for warning signs of drowsiness. These include difficulty keeping your eyes open, the inability to keep your head up, daydreaming, drifting from your lane, or tailgating, according to the AAA Foundation.

5. Pull off the road. If that giant Starbucks latte isn’t doing the trick, pull off the road and get a few hours of sleep. This may be particularly relevant when taking those long, traffic-filled roadtrips for the holidays. (No, you shouldn’t push through for another three hours when you’ve already been driving for 12.) The AAA recommends getting at least six hours of sleep before a long driving trip.

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