Being tired behind the wheel may seem relatively innocuous compared to a drunk, reckless, or road-raging driver. But drowsy driving can impair your driving skills and lead to sleep driving, which, needless to say, is never a good thing.
Why tired driving is dangerous
As you know, driving is a cognitively demanding task, requiring your full attention and a brain firing on all cylinders. But when you drive tired, your driving skills suffer. Sleepiness can cause slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment, and delays in information processing, all of which can lead to serious car accidents.
A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 13.1 percent of accidents resulting in hospitalization and 16.5 percent of fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver.
Drowsy-driving accidents are more likely to be serious since they tend to happen on high-speed roads. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving results in more than 100,000 accidents each year.
Who's more likely to be in a drowsy-driving accident?
While no one is immune to falling asleep at the wheel, certain groups are prone to drowsy driving:
- Young people, especially men under the age of 26
- Shift workers and those who work more than 60 hours a week
- Commercial drivers, particularly long-haul drivers
- Business travelers
- People with undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders (which makes sense)
Drowsy driving detection
It's not always easy to know when sleep will overcome you, but by being alert to these warning signs provided by the National Sleep Foundation, you'll know when you're too tired to drive:
- Turning the radio up. If you find yourself boosting the volume on your car radio, your body could be subconsciously begging for a wake-me-up.
- Daydreaming. Makes sense, right? Your half-awake self is trying to get a head start on your sleeping self's favorite activity. And daydreaming itself can distract you from the dangers of the road.
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, and missing signs or exits. In terms of your risk of crashing, being awake for 18 hours is equivalent to being legally drunk. Needless to say, drowsy driving can make it easy to veer from your lane, tailgate, or otherwise drive distractedly.
- Yawning. Obvious, we know, but it's true.
Effects on your car insurance
Because driving capacity is so diminished when you're drowsy, you risk being found at fault in an accident. In most states, at-fault claims can indicate risky behavior behind the wheel.
Repeated drowsy-driving incidents may make you a risky driver in the eyes of your insurer, which could lead to increased premiums in the long run. If you're detecting your own pattern of drowsy driving or just can't avoid late-night driving, try adjusting your schedule to fit in more sleep. If you're already on the road, pull over and grab a quick bite or a moment of shut-eye.
Staying alert can help you maintain your safe-driving record, which will come in handy in terms of lower car insurance payments and the possibility of safety-related discounts.
Asleep at the Wheel: The Prevalence and Impact of Drowsy Driving (PDF)
This 2010 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety addresses the prevalence and impact of drowsy driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's expert panel
Find out why drowsy-driving accidents tend to occur at high speeds.
Who's at risk, according to the National Sleep Foundation
Read more about who drives tired and find out how to recognize the signs.
The National Sleep Foundation's Drowsy Driving Facts (PDF)
All you need to know about driving tired in one PDF.