A driver is pulled over late on a Des Moines night. He’s been weaving his car back and forth across the lanes. He’s also been struggling to keep his vehicle at the appropriate speed, sometimes slowing way down and sometimes exceeding the speed limit. The driver’s reflexes have slowed and he struggles to concentrate and to make sound decisions.
While that sounds a lot like a drunk driver, it’s actually a description of another dangerous motorist: the drowsy driver.
Similar types of impairment
Though they’re not identical, drowsy driving and drunk driving have a number of similarities, including this most important one: Drowsy drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers.
Controlled studies that compared drowsy and drunk driving have shown that “both result in a similar amount of crashes,” the Sleep Foundation says. In other words, a sleep-deprived driver is just as likely to cause a motor vehicle crash as a driver impaired by alcohol.
The equivalent of being drunk
The Sleep Foundation says that if you spend 20 hours awake, your slower reactions, diminished hand-eye coordination and your struggles to maintain your focus on driving are comparable to the impairments in people with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent – Iowa’s drunk driving threshold.
If you stay awake an extra two hours, for a total of 22 sleepless hours, your impairment will be equivalent to a BAC of .1 percent, well above the legal limit for drunk driving.
The danger of short-term deprivation
According to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, even short-term sleep deprivation can dangerously diminish your ability to drive safely. They found that the risk of being in a car accident doubled for people who routinely sleep between six and seven hours a night.
The risk doubled again for people who get less than five hours of sleep.
Most likely to drive drowsy
The Sleep Foundation says those who are most likely to drive while fatigued those with sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, young drivers, people who are taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications, shift workers and commercial truck drivers.
While studies and statistics about the causes of crashes are interesting, the topic is much more personal for those who have been injured in a violent collision caused by a negligent or reckless driver. For accident injury victims, the focus is on getting the help they need to restore their physical and financial health.