Driving sleepy

Drivers hit the road in record numbers throughout the year, many unaware that they faced a rarely mentioned hazard as serious as distracted and inebriated drivers — drivers in need of sleep. According to a recent report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, driving while drowsy is just as dangerous as driving drunk.

In a work-obsessed culture that places supreme importance on deadlines and bottom lines, Americans often forego sleep to meet the daily demands of life, and that choice could have deadly consequences, the report says.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified insufficient sleep as a public health problem among Americans. Researchers also found, in fact, that more than a third of adults in the U.S. are not getting enough sleep regularly — meaning 1 in 3 adults is sleeping less than the seven suggested hours necessary to promote optimal health and well being. 

Losing one to two hours of sleep doubles a driver’s crash risk, and losing just two to three hours of sleep puts drivers at the same crash risk as drunk drivers, the travel authority’s study reports.

“Drivers missing two to three hours of sleep in a 24-hour period more than quadrupled their risk of a crash compared to drivers getting the recommended seven hours of sleep,” AAA reported. “This is the same crash risk the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration associates with driving over the legal limit for alcohol.”

While many travelers on the highways across the country are more focused on family and fellowship than rest this holiday season, tired drivers are not only putting themselves at risk for a collision, but also their passengers and other drivers as well.

AAA goes on to say drowsy driving is involved in more than one in five fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year.

“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a press release.

Symptoms of drowsy driving include heavy eyelids, difficulty focusing, trouble remembering the last few miles driven, drifting from your lane and feeling restless and irritable.

However, AAA said a person’s body won’t always tell him or her when it’s not safe to get behind the wheel, and the company urged drivers to prioritize getting seven hours of sleep each night.

The National Sleep Foundation adds that certain groups — such as young males, late-night workers, commercial drivers and overworked business people — are more at risk of not getting enough sleep and crashing due to their lifestyles.

“Managing a healthy work-life balance can be difficult and far too often we sacrifice our sleep as a result,” Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA, said. “Failing to maintain a healthy sleep schedule could mean putting yourself or others on the road at risk.”

Stephen writes for the Valdosta, Georgia Daily Times.

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