A majority of Americans, 60%, have admitted to driving drowsy. Studies have shown that sleepiness or fatigue can impair a driver’s ability. Though it may be surprising to some, driving while drowsy is about as dangerous as driving drunk. There are approximately 100,000 motor vehicle accidents in the United States every year related to drowsy driving. Almost three-quarters of these result in non-fatal injuries
Anyone is potentially at risk for a drowsy driving accident. The loss of a single night’s sleep is enough to cause impairment behind the wheel. However, some factors may produce a greater risk than others.
Certain medications, both over-the-counter and prescription drugs, can cause drowsiness as a side effect. There is usually a warning on the label advising people not to drive while taking the medication.
- Shift work
People who work night shifts at least part of the time are at greater risk of a drowsy driving accident. Driving home after a work shift is when the risk may be greatest. Occupations that require shift work and potentially put professionals at greater risk for drowsy driving include law enforcement and healthcare. Pilots may be at greater risk, as well as truck drivers.
- Untreated sleep disorders
Two conditions may put drivers at the greatest risk for drowsy driving. One is narcolepsy, and the other is obstructive sleep apnea. Narcolepsy causes people to fall asleep suddenly and randomly. Obstructive sleep apnea causes people to stop breathing periodically during the night. This can affect the quality of sleep that they receive so that they end up more tired the next day.
Drowsiness affects a person’s ability to accurately assess whether he or she is fit to drive or too impaired. Though usually not intending to cause an accident or intentional harm to anyone else, drowsy drivers pose a danger not only to themselves, but to others on the road, as well.