Drowsy Driving: At What Point Does Sleep Deprivation Make Your Driving Suffer?

by Doug Zanes | Last Updated: November 1, 2018

Drowsy Driving: At What Point Does Sleep Deprivation Make Your Driving Suffer?

 Few people would ever admit to drunk driving, but many would have no problem confessing to driving while drowsy. Make no mistake, though: drowsy driving is dangerous. Drowsy driving was responsible for approximately 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and over 800 deaths in 2015, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. And those figures might be an underestimate. The Center for Disease Controlreports that drowsy driving may cause many as 6,000 fatal crashes every year.

As the name suggests, drowsy driving occurs when motorists drive while sleepy or fatigued. When you drive under those conditions, it’s difficult to pay attention or react quickly to potential traffic hazards. To make matters worse, sleepy drivers may nod off behind the wheel–even when driving fast.

Drowsy driving usually occurs when a driver is sleep deprived, has an untreated sleep disorder, or takes medicines that make them sleepy. To avoid causing a crash, people with sleep disorders should seek treatment before driving, and anyone taking medication should check for potential sedative side effects before getting behind the wheel. If you’re sleep deprived, yawning a lot, or have heavy eyelids, you should take rest up or take a nap before hitting the road.

But how sleep deprived must we be before our driving suffers?

If we’ve only slept five hours, for example, but feel alert, would our driving still be negatively affected? Researchers have long pondered this question, but an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety studypublished in 2016 became the first to provide answers.

In this study, researchers examined data of a representative sample of police-reported crashes in the U.S. between July 2005 and December 2007. They assessed, among other things, the cause of the crash, the number of hours the drivers reported to have slept 24-hours prior to the crash, the drivers’ usual daily amount of sleep, and whether the drivers had recently changed their sleep schedule.

The study results indicated that drivers’ crash risk would significantly increase if they:

  • usually sleep for less than 5 hours daily, or
  • have slept less than 7 hours in the past 24 hours, or
  • have slept for 1 or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep.

The researchers say these findings support the National Sleep Foundation’s conclusion that individuals who have slept 2 hours or less within a 24-hour period aren’t fit to drive. They say the study also suggests that people who have slept less than 4 or 5 hours in the 24-hours before driving are likely to be “substantially impaired” behind the wheel.

If you or loved one has been involved in car accident related to drowsy driving, contact Zanes Law at (844) 9260-3753 for a free consultation. We can help you investigate the causes of the accident, help you handle insurance companies, obtain fair compensation and feel more in control.

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Doug Zanes: Founding Attorney Raised in Douglas, Arizona, and went to college at Arizona State University and graduated from law school at St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas. Doug began practicing law in Phoenix Arizona in 1997.
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