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Auto Accidents

Too Tired to Drive? Why Tired Driving Is as Bad as Drunk Driving

In the early morning hours of March 12, 2011, a bus traveling to New York City from Connecticut crashed, killing 15 passengers and seriously injuring 17 others. After a thorough investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board determined the accident was caused by several factors, all of them related to one fact: driver fatigue. In the three days leading up to the day of the crash, the bus driver had not had adequate rest, which, when combined with excessive speed and cellphone use, was the primary cause of the deadly accident. As a result, the driver spent more than a year behind bars and faces a $250,000 fine, in addition to civil charges from the victims’ families.

The New York bus crash highlights a significant, and often overlooked, danger on American roads: drowsy drivers. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60 percent of drivers confess to driving when they feel tired, which can be akin to driving drunk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that staying awake for 18 hours is the cognitive equivalent of a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05 percent. If you stay up for a few more hours, the effects are more pronounced. Staying awake for 24 hours is the same as having a BAC of .10 percent, above the legal limit in every state.

Asleep at the Wheel

The National Sleep Foundation’s study indicates that not only are people driving while tired, they are falling asleep on the road. According to their survey, 37 percent of drivers report nodding off while driving. The effect is an increase in serious accidents. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration notes that between 5,000 and 6,000 fatal crashes each year can be attributed to drowsy driving. This is equal to more than two percent of all fatal accidents. The number of non-fatal accidents is even higher: more than 100,000 crashes, resulting in 71,000 injuries and $1.25 billion in costs related to drowsy driving.

Understanding the Problem

Driving when you are too tired can slow your reaction times, cause you to lose focus and impact your decision-making ability. Other research indicates that being too tired also inhibits your vision. This can create “tunnel vision” and other disturbances that make it difficult to see and react to hazards.

However, the NTSB notes that most people are unable to recognize fatigue. By the time they realize that they are tired, it is often too late. When combined with other issues, like in the New York bus crash, that drowsiness can prove fatal. Before you drive, pay attention to the following signs of fatigue:

  • Obvious lack of sleep. Experts recommend adults get 7 to 10 hours of sleep each night.
  • Excessive yawning.
  • Visual disturbances or problems, like blinking or watery eyes.
  • Difficulty controlling the vehicle. This includes lane drifting or hitting rumble strips.
  • Attention-related issues, such as missing exits or turns or not remembering the last few miles you drove.

If you recognize any of these signs, find a safe place to stop and rest before continuing, or ask someone who is less fatigued to take the wheel. Driving while fatigued can lead to a serious accident, bringing with it significant financial and legal consequences. Losing a bit of time on the road will pale in comparison to what you could lose in a major accident.