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By Jim Adler June 12, 2015

Sadly, asleep at the wheel is more than the name of an Austin-based country music band. It’s the name behind thousands of auto accident deaths and injuries — deaths caused by drowsy drivers who were just as dangerous as drunk drivers.

Indeed, a study in Australia showed that being awake for 18 hours leads to impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of .05, and it rises to the equivalent of a .10 BAC after 24 hours awake. You are legally intoxicated with a BAC of .08.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) president-elect Dr. Nathaniel Wilson likens drowsy driving to drunk driving, since each compromise driving ability “by reducing alertness and attentiveness, delaying reaction times and hindering decision-making skills.”

But though drowsy driving can be deadly, “it’s also completely avoidable,” Wilson says.

Drowsy Driving Causes 1 in 5 wrecks

Almost daily, news reports describe fatal car wrecks in which a vehicle mysteriously went off a road and struck a tree, sign, wall or other object. Often such wrecks occur late at night or in pre-dawn hours. And often, it may be assumed, a drowsy driver was at the wheel.

Though drowsy driving is hard to pinpoint — there’s no equivalent test to a breathalyzer for alcohol — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year brings a minimum of 100,000 police-reported collisions attributable to driver fatigue.

These drowsy driving crashes involve an estimated 71,000 injuries, 1,500 fatalities and $12.5 billion in losses.

A National Sleep Foundation poll revealed that 60% of adult drivers said they’d driven while drowsy in the past year, and 37% fell asleep at the wheel. Of these, 4% said they’d had a crash or a near-crash.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says one of every five traffic accidents is due to “drowsy driving.” It also pinpoints the most likely drowsy drivers to have an accident: drivers who are 16 to 24 years of age.

Correcting Sleep-Deprivation

Correcting sleep-deprivation problems begins at home. That’s where the Healthy Sleep Project recommends restricting teens’ “screen time” before a TV or a computer prior to going to bed, and encouraging them to keep a regular schedule for getting sleep.

Teens also should learn to note warning signs that they may be getting drowsy if they’re at the wheel or about to start a car.

How many hours of sleep should a teen get nightly? According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly nine hours of sleep would be helpful, while adults can get by with less, or around seven to nine hours of sleep.

But’s it’s not just teens who are drowsy drivers. Also likely to drive while drowsy are shift workers, adults with children and, in general, men, who are nearly twice as apt as women to fall asleep at the wheel, says the NSF.

How to Detect Drowsy Driving

You may be wondering how to detect drowsy driving when you’re at the wheel of a vehicle. Here are some drowsy driving symptoms:

  • Yawning or having trouble keeping your eyes open
  • Drifting into another traffic lane or onto the shoulder
  • Struggling to keep your head up and keep from nodding off
  • Driving too closely to the cars ahead
  • Missing signs on the road or forgetting what you’ve passed

Refuse to Drive When Sleep-Deprived

Just as an intoxicated person should take a cab or ride with a designated driver, a drowsy driver should refuse to drive when sleep-deprived. That can mean delaying a trip or getting another driver if you haven’t left yet, or it can mean pulling over and stopping your journey if you’re already en route, or asking someone else in the car to drive.

The bottom line is that drivers must take responsibility when they aren’t fit to hit the road. Drowsy driving can be just as lethal as drunk driving and should be approached with the same caution and avoidance.

If someone in your family was hurt in a crash caused by a drowsy driver, alert our law firm immediately. We’ll give you a free case review. Then you can decide if you want to take legal action to gain financial compensation for your family’s injury losses.

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