Sleep Deprivation While Driving

Delayed reaction
Sleep deprivation interferes with reaction time

Sleep deprivation while driving is one of the largest, potentially fatal risks you take. Sleep deprivation is characterized by a lack of enough sleep for most nights during the week. Most people need at least six hours of sleep a night to function properly, with doctors recommending at least seven to eight. A growing number of people don't get enough sleep which puts thousands on the streets at a risk to themselves and others.

Reaction Time of a Drunk Person

One of the most interesting facts about sleep deprivation is that after just two nights of less than six hours of sleep per night, your reaction time is so low someone with a blood alcohol level of .05 is in better shape. Your brain is exhausted, even if your muscles are not. The brain doesn't respond fast enough to stimuli, such as a deer running across the street or a curve in the road.

When you put this risk in contrast with the number of people who are suffering from sleep problems (estimated at 70 million in the United States alone) you can see the incredible risks to all drivers.

The National Sleep Foundation produced a survey in late 2007 showing the dangers of sleep deprivation including drivers. They questioned a group of 1,000 workers to find out how often they went to work significantly tired. Of these, three in ten people admitted to doing so on a regular basis. Further, 36 percent of the 1,000 people admitted to nodding off or even falling asleep while driving to and from work. Twenty six percent said they drive so tired during their workday they are drowsy.

Sleep Deprivation While Driving: What Happens

According to a survey done by the Federal Highway Administration, Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, there is evidence that when you are sleep deprived, your body responds differently to a significant level while on the road.

Sleep Deprivation While Driving Results in Accidents

The study laid out a test pattern in which individuals gradually increased the number of hours they were awake over a period of four days. On day one, they were awake for a continuous nine hours. By day four, they had been awake for more than 60 hours, consecutively. At each period, they drove their vehicle and monitored their reactions.

The results were striking:

  • The number of crashes experienced by drivers by day four of the experiment hit eight, up from three on day three.
  • The amount of swerving increased dramatically
  • The average number of times the individual left the lane also increase sharply. On day one, the average was below five, on day two it climbed to ten, then sharply rose to 35 by day three. At day four, an average of 45 was recorded.
  • Speed increased as people had less sleep. On day one, the average was 48 miles per hour, but by day four, speeds increased to 52 miles per hour.

Even minor amounts of sleep deprivation, over a short amount of time, caused significant risk to the driver and others on the road.

A variety of things happen to your body when you are deprived of sleep. Your body is less likely to notice signs alongside the road. Your brain reacts slower, meaning your feet and hands react slower. You gain more tunnel vision while driving, losing much of your peripheral vision or your ability to focus on it. More so, the more you drive, the more difficult it becomes to stay awake. Long trip drivers are most at risk because of the monotonous driving activity can make them drowsier.

Sleep deprivation while driving causes one third of all motor accidents. Government is passing laws to monitor and regulate drivers who are tired. Truck drivers, in particular, are most likely to cause accidents because they are on the road much more regularly than standard drivers. Some states, like New Jersey, have enacted laws prohibiting sleepy drivers.

Facts to Know

The numbers are very worrisome when it comes to the number of people driving considered deprived of sleep. These are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA:

  • 100,000 automobile crashes are the direct result of drowsy driving in the United States each year
  • 71,000 people receive injuries each year from drowsy drivers
  • 1,550 people die because of drowsy driving
  • One half of all Americans admit to driving while sleep deprived, especially high are the number of young males (through age 30)

To get help for your sleep problems, talk to your doctor or contact a professional through the National Sleep Foundation.

Sleep Deprivation While Driving