Most people have heard the phrase, “Don’t drink and drive.” Very few, however, mention the phrase, “Don’t sleep and drive.”
There have been many campaigns against drunk driving and distracted driving, but not many people discuss the dangers of falling asleep while driving. From a firsthand account, falling asleep at the wheel is terrifying. What most people think of when they hear “falling asleep while driving” is a late night drive gone wrong. What most people don’t know is that it can happen at any time during the day.
In high school, I used to drive back and forth from an internship around 11 a.m. every other day. But this day was different, and it was all because I hadn’t slept well the night before.
I was driving down the highway, and before I knew it my eyes were fluttering shut due to my lack of sleep, highway hypnosis and the warmth of my car on a cold winter day.
I didn’t “wake up” until I was drifting into the break down lane, almost hitting a cop car that had pulled someone over for speeding.
Jerking my wheel to the left, I was able to stay in my lane, at this point fully awake and terrified that I almost swerved off the highway in broad daylight.
Most people don’t realize is that driving while drowsy is just as dangerous as drunk driving.
A study published by JAMA Internal Medicine found that sleepiness carries almost as much of a risk as alcohol consumption. The study also found that being awake for 18 hours had the same effects as a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 and a BAC of .10 after being awake for 24 hours. This is staggering compared to the .08 BAC which is considered legally intoxicated.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 crashes occur due to drowsy driving each year, but this is hard to determine because there is no test to prove fatigue, such as a breathalyz er to determine if someone is driving drunk.
Drowsy driving is not as widely discussed as drunk driving or distracted driving, especially across college campuses.
According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18-29 are more likely to drive while drowsy.
Most people can’t tell when they are too tired to drive, which makes crashes due to falling asleep at the wheel all the more frequent.
You’ve probably heard your friends say, “Oh just blast the radio,” or “Crack a window for fresh air,” but these tricks are not proven to increase how alert you are while driving. Trust me, as a very tired person almost 24/7, I’ve tried it all to survive my hour- and- a- half- long ride home from Quinnipiac.
When I know I am tired and have to drive, I usually stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and grab a coffee because I know it will help me stay awake. But caffeine doesn’t have the same effect on everyone and can wear off after a period of time.
If you feel too tired to drive, try to take a short nap before you leave. Or, if you find yourself drowsy behind the wheel, pull over and rest your eyes for 15-20 minutes. It is better to arrive safely than arrive on time.
Driving between midnight and 6 a.m. is also extremely dangerous because of your body’s biological rhythm, according to the National Sleep Foundation. During this time frame, sleepiness is the most intense and if you’re behind the w heel, it could cause an accident.
The bottom line is this: If you’re too tired to drive, then don’t. But if you have to drive, use caution and make sure you can get from point A to point B safely. Had I known this prior to getting in my car that day, I would have exercised more caution when driving to my internship on little to no sleep.
Drowsy driving is commonly swept under the rug when it comes to safe driving education, but I think education about drowsy driving and the risks that come with it should be just as prevalent as education on drunk driving and distracted driving. It’s not something everyone recognizes right away as opposed to drunk driving.
The more you understand the dangers of drowsy driving, the more you can prevent accidents and dangerous situations for yourself. Without this imperative education, we will forever be asleep at the wheel.