The Effects Sleep Deprivation Have on Safe Driving

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Driving after little to no sleep represents a danger to both you and other drivers on the road. Experts at the National Sleep Foundation liken getting behind the wheel while sleep deprived to driving drunk, and they say it’s even more dangerous in some cases. The greatest risk comes from people who have slept less than four hours in the past 24 hours and driver drowsiness plays a role in 16% of fatal crashes in the United States.
Find out the warning signs of drowsy driving, current laws dealing with drivers who choose to drive while drowsy, and how to prevent this dangerous practice.

The Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation

In addition to not getting the sleep you need, other factors can cause drowsy driving, including medication, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, and working long hours. Some of the warning signs from that indicate you might be suffering from drowsy driving include:
  • Frequent blinking or yawning
  • Nodding off and missing your exit
  • Problems drifting into the other lane
  • Problems driving over the rumble strip on the side of the road
  • Problems with remembering the last few miles you have driven
If you find yourself suffering from the above symptoms, you need to pull over immediately, either onto the shoulder or at a gas station or other stop. Once pulled over, get out and walk around, and try to wake up. If pulled over on the side of the road, watch out for oncoming traffic. If you work inconsistent or unusual hours, pay particular attention to how much sleep you are getting when you commute to and from your job. Shift workers who work overnight or on long rotations are less likely to get the amount of sleep they need.

Current Drowsy Driving Laws

In addition to being dangerous, drowsy driving is actually illegal in Arkansas and New Jersey. Most states, however, do not have laws on the books to penalize drivers for driving when sleep deprived. The following table from the National Council of State Legislators (NCSL) details the laws and initiatives in a most states when it comes to drowsy driving:
Drowsy Driving Laws by State
State Drowsy Driving Laws and Initiatives
Alabama None; observes Drowsy Driver Awareness Day on November 19 each year
Alaska None
Arizona None
Arkansas Classified as an offense under negligent homicide; class A misdemeanor
California None; proclaimed Drowsy Driver Awareness Day on April 5, 2005
Colorado None
Connecticut None
Delaware None
D.C. None
Florida None; proclaimed Drowsy Driving Prevention Week for the first week of September
Georgia None
Hawaii None
Idaho None
Illinois None
Indiana None
Iowa None
Kansas None
Kentucky None
Louisiana None
Maine None
Maryland None
Massachusetts None
Michigan None
Minnesota None
Mississippi None
Missouri None
Montana None
Nebraska None
Nevada None
New Hampshire None
New Jersey Considered reckless driving
New Mexico None
New York None
North Carolina None
North Dakota None
Ohio None
Oklahoma None
Oregon None
Pennsylvania None; proclaimed the month of April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month
Rhode Island None
South Carolina None
South Dakota None
Tennessee None
Texas None; proclaims the week of November 6 to 12 as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week
Utah None; installing road signs warning against the dangers of drowsy driving
Vermont None
Virginia None
Washington None
West Virginia None
Wisconsin None
Wyoming None

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

While getting plenty of sleep represents the best way to combat drowsy driving, according to the National Sleep Foundation, some other ways to prevent not getting enough sleep before hitting the roadways includes:
  • Napping: Taking a short nap before you leave on a long trip can help if you did not get enough sleep the night before. In addition, you can pull over while driving and take a short 15-to-20-minute nap. Just remember to park in a safe area when doing so and wake up fully before hitting the road again.
  • Buddy system: When taking a long trip, find a buddy to go with you, especially if you do not plan on stopping to rest. This way you and your friend can swap out driving every two hours while the other driver gets some rest.
  • Take your time: When taking a long road trip, take your time. This leisurely pace should allow you to get the rest you need along the way and helps ensure that you arrive at your destination safely.
  • Avoid alcohol: Don’t drink alcohol before setting out on your trip. Alcohol only makes the drowsiness associated with sleep-deprived driving worse. Even if you’re above the legal limit, alcohol could make you sleepy and impact your reaction times.
  • Avoid driving late at night: Try to drive during the daytime or early evening hours. Driving late at night, when your body normally sleeps, can make it harder to stay awake.
  • Drink plenty of caffeine: Drinking caffeine can help you stay alert while driving on a long trip. While caffeine does improve alertness, keep in mind its effects usually wear off after only a few hours.
Avoiding drowsy driving altogether by getting plenty of sleep represents the best way to avoid falling asleep while on the road. And while you can control yourself in this regard, you have no control over the sleep habits of other drivers on the road.

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