It can happen to anyone: driving late at night, the hum of the tires and the sound of the wind against the car lulling you to sleep. It becomes a struggle to stay alert, and suddenly not only is your own life at risk, but so are others on the road with you.
This type of drowsy driving occurs when a person operating the motor vehicle is too exhausted to keep their eyes open. Employees who must drive for long hours at a time as part of their job duties, especially late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, could be at risk for falling asleep while behind the wheel.
According to the CDC, drowsy driving is a major problem in the United States, and an estimated one in 25 adults age 18 or older admit to falling asleep behind the wheel. Those who are most likely to fall asleep when driving include shift workers, commercial drivers, drivers on medications that could make them tired, and simply those drivers who are not getting enough sleep in their daily lives.
When a driver is sleepy, their attention and reaction time decrease significantly, putting them and others in danger. Additionally, drowsy driving crashes tend to occur at a higher speed than other types of crashes. This is because the driver is semi-unconscious, or even totally asleep, and makes no effort at all to attempt to prevent the crash.
The Facts about Drowsy Driving
Back in early November, the National Sleep Foundation held Drowsy Driving Prevention Week as a way to share education and awareness about the dangers of drowsy driving. It’s often difficult to determine if a crash has been caused by a driver falling asleep at the wheel, as the accidents tend to involve just the driver’s vehicle and the injuries are serious or even fatal. There is no objective test for drowsy driving, so law enforcement often cannot identify if drowsiness played a factor in the crash.
However, we know that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sleep deprivation has similar effects on drivers’ attentiveness, reaction time and their ability to make quick decisions – all factors essential to safe driving.
Even the most experienced drivers can be at risk for driving drowsy. It’s more commonly seen in drivers traveling long distances, however, anyone who gets behind the wheel when they’re extremely tired face the perils of drowsy driving.
A few facts and statistics around drowsy driving include:
- NHTSA estimates that in 2017, 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers, which lead to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths.
- 40% of people admit to falling asleep behind the wheel at least once in the past year.
- Drowsy driving crashes occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late afternoon, as these are the times people experience dips in their circadian rhythm—the human body’s internal clock that regulates sleep.
- Men (32.9%) were more likely to have fallen asleep at the wheel compared to women (22.2%).
- Commercial drivers are at a significantly higher risk for crashes caused by drowsiness. The reasons for this include the long hours on the road and high number of miles they need to drive as part of their jobs. Additionally, many of these drivers tend to be more at risk for a variety of sleep disorders.
- Driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which is the U.S. legal limit.
- Shift workers who work night shifts, double shifts or swing shifts are also six times more likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash.
- Business travelers are also at a higher risk for a drowsy driving crash, as they travel across time zones, suffer from jet lag, too little sleep, and spend many hours driving to get to their destination.
Ways to Avoid Drowsy Driving
Employees who drive regularly as part of their job requirements should understand how to avoid drowsy driving to ensure they stay as safe as possible on the road. A few tips to avoid drowsy driving include:
- Recognize the signs of becoming drowsy, which include yawning, heavy-feeling eyelids, nodding off, not remembering the last few miles of driving, missing road signs, getting too close to other drivers, and drifting into other lanes or onto the rumble strips on the shoulder.
- Make sure employees get enough rest before a long driving trip, shooting for a range of seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Encourage employees to take frequent breaks every 100 miles or every two hours, especially if they’ll be driving overnight.
- If drivers start to feel tired, irritable or unable to concentrate, they should stop driving immediately and take a break, pulling off the road to safe area like a well-lit rest stop to get at least 20 minutes of sleep.
Creating a Team of Safe ProDrivers with DriveTeam
If your employees drive at odd hours or for long amounts of time, it’s important to make sure they know the risks of drowsy driving. The first step is to employ a corporate driver training program for your company drivers, so they can learn the skills they need to reduce accidents caused by drowsy driving and gain more confidence on the road. Contact us for more information.