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Are You in One of These High Risk Groups Who Drive While Fatigued?

Drew Duncan
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Partner at Zimmer, Duncan and Cole, LLP

It is never safe to drive while you are drowsy—period. However, given our fast-paced and busy lives, many of us do it anyway. Sadly, the consequences can be fatal. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 72,000 accidents, 800 deaths, and 44,000 injuries were caused by drowsy driving in 2013.

A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study also highlights how prevalent this practice is. Researchers surveyed drivers 16 years old and older about their driving practices in 2015 as a part of their 2015 Traffic Safety Culture Index. They found that while 97% of drivers disapprove of drowsy driving, many have done it anyway. Their survey found that:

  • 43 percent of drivers have fallen asleep or nodded off while driving at least once in their lifetimes
  • 2.5 percent fell asleep or nodded off within the last 30 days
  • 10 percent fell asleep or nodded off within the last year

The researchers noted that the results were consistent with prior studies on drowsy driving and that drivers were most likely underreporting their episodes of driving when tired.

People Most At Risk of Driving While Drowsy

Driving while sleepy can make you an unsafe driver in a number of ways. These include the following:

  • You are less able to pay attention to the road.
  • Your reaction time slows when you need to brake or steer suddenly.
  • Your ability to make good decisions is reduced.

While anybody can drive when they are tired, certain groups of people are more at risk of doing this and may do so more frequently than the general population. Those at high risk of drowsy driving include:

  • People who do not get enough sleep
  • Young drivers from 16 to 29 years old—especially males
  • Commercial drivers like truck and bus drivers who must drive for long periods of time without a break
  • Shift workers who work the night shift or shifts longer than eight hours
  • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders
  • People taking medications with drowsiness as a side effect

5 Warning Signs You Are Too Tired to Drive

You need to know the warning signs of drowsy driving to not cause one of these accidents and to recognize if another driver’s drowsiness caused your crash. Symptoms to watch for include:

  1. Yawning or blinking frequently
  2. Problems remembering the last few miles driven
  3. Missing a scheduled exit
  4. Drifting out of your lane
  5. Veering onto a rumble strip on the side of the road

Night Shift Workers At Greater Risk of Accidents

Night shift workers are one of the groups at higher risks of driving when tired. Working at night is hazardous to workers’ health in general and to their ability to safely drive because staying awake at night disrupts their natural circadian rhythm—their internal clock. Unfortunately, this affects millions of Americans who must work overnight or rotating shifts.

A small study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that workers’ driving was much more dangerous after their night shift than if they had gotten a full night of sleep. Their findings included the following:

  • 37.5 percent of workers were involved in a near-accident event when driving after their night shift.
  • Drivers showed increased drowsiness and deteriorating safe driving practices.
  • More than one-third of the drivers needed to use emergency braking maneuvers.
  • Almost one-half of the drivers lost control of their vehicles before their practice session was completed due to drowsiness.
  • Drivers engaged in drowsy driving practices within the first 15 minutes of driving.
  • Drivers had a significantly higher rate of lane shifting.
  • Drivers’ eye movements were slower, and they exhibited longer blink times.
  • If drivers drove longer than 30 minutes, the risk of micro-sleeping—sleeping for less than three seconds—increased.
  • Veteran night shift workers were just as likely to experience these dangerous drowsy driving effects as newer workers.

6 Tips to Avoid Driving When Tired

You can take steps to avoid causing a drowsy driving accident both before you get behind the wheel and while on the road. Take these actions to stay safe:

  • Get seven to nine hours of sleep during the night to be most alert when driving.
  • Have a passenger with you who can watch for signs you are too tired to drive.
  • Don’t consume alcohol and drive. While it is never safe to do so, it can also contribute to drowsiness.
  • Schedule regular stops every 100 miles or two hours when you are driving for longer stretches.
  • Pull over somewhere safe and take a 15 minute nap if you become sleepy while driving.
  • Drinking up to two cups of caffeinated coffee can make you more alert, but it will take the caffeine about 30 minutes to affect you.

Even if you do not drive when drowsy, another negligent driver might and could cause an accident involving you or a loved one. If you suspect the driver was too tired to drive safely, you need an experienced car accident attorney to help you prove this. We’re here to help. Start an online chat to schedule a free consultation.


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