Although most people understand the risks of drinking and driving, many still underestimate the dangers of getting behind the wheel while drowsy. In fact, drowsiness can cause some of the same effects as alcohol and seriously increase the risk of an accident.
Taking safety seriously means avoiding drowsy driving just as you would avoid driving after a few drinks. Drivers affected by fatigue tend to make bad decisions on the road.
How drowsiness affects driving ability
The effects of even relatively mild undersleeping can add up to substantial mental and physical impairment. Common results of drowsiness include difficulty focusing, slowed reaction times and increased clumsiness. Higher levels of sleep deprivation may cause dizziness and blurred vision and can even lead to a driver literally falling asleep at the wheel.
Of course, if you know you did not get enough sleep, you should do your best to avoid getting behind the wheel. You may opt to have someone else drive or to get some rest before traveling. However, one of the ways in which drowsy driving can be harder to address is the lack of black-and-white guidelines. A person who had too much to drink generally knows it. On the other hand, gauging lack of sleep tends to be more individual. One person may function at top capacity on six hours of sleep while someone else may need as many as nine hours to drive safely.
If you feel yourself zoning out or losing time during your trip, stop driving and get some rest as soon as it is safe and practical. Other danger signs include overly frequent blinking, a feeling of mental slowness and yawning.
More risk factors to consider
Some people may think they get enough sleep but suffer from drowsiness due to poor sleep quality. If you routinely feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, consider seeing a doctor. Conditions such as sleep apnea can prevent you from getting the rest you need to function safely. Some types of jobs, including commercial truck driving and shift work, also tend to increase the risk of drowsiness.