What’s the most important factor when it comes to safe driving? The answer may surprise you. When you get behind the wheel, the greatest determinant of how your ride will go is whether or not you’re sleep deprived, and we’re not just talking about extreme sleep deprivation. Drivers who have gotten less than seven hours of sleep the night before are more likely to be involved in accidents than those who have slept more than seven hours, while drivers who have gotten less than four hours of sleep have more than 15 times the risk of a well-rested driver.
Sleep And Focus
One of the main ways that drivers benefit from getting a good night’s sleep is because rest helps us focus. When we’re asleep, our brains process and organize all of the experiences and information from the previous day, clearing the clutter so you can start fresh. If you’ve ever woken up after staying up too late and hoped some coffee would clear your head, what you’re experiencing is the sensation of leftover neural clutter. That cognitive mess can keep you from processing your environment when you’re driving and prevent you from responding quickly and appropriately to other vehicles.
Sleep And The Law
When you get behind the wheel, you’re communicating your willingness to adhere to the many rules that organize our time on the road, including not being intoxicated, following the speed limit, and obeying traffic signs. You’re also declaring that you are alert and attentive. Unfortunately, if you’re involved in an accident while sleep deprived, you may be the target of a personal injury claim.
Drowsy driving claims are most commonly made against truck drivers who cover long distances and have to log their hours, but the fact is that anyone can be the subject of a drowsy driving claim. Video footage from the area of the event may be able to prove if you were in the wrong.
Drunk Versus Drowsy
Drowsy driving may seem like a relatively minor infraction compared to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but when it comes to its impact on our driving abilities, sleep deprivation is functionally similar to intoxication. In fact, its impact on reaction time and information processing is so much like those of consuming alcohol that scientists have measured their relative impact. The result: a driver who has been awake for 24-hours is functionally the same as one with a blood alcohol level of 0.10, significantly over the legal limit of 0.08. They can’t respond appropriately to road conditions and they shouldn’t be behind the wheel.
An Invisible Hazard
The biggest problem with drowsy driving, of course, is that unlike drinking or using drugs, there isn’t a field test for sleep deprivation, which can make it difficult to identify – but that may be about to change. Already, many truck drivers pilot vehicles equipped with driver attention alert systems that can tell when a driver is tired or distracted. There isn’t yet an equivalent test that can be deployed after an accident or when a driver has been pulled over by the police, but it’s likely that such tests aren’t far in the future.
Equipped with this new knowledge of sleep deprivation’s hazards, drivers should pause before they get behind the wheel. Are you well-rested enough to drive? If not, consider calling an Uber or taking the bus. It will be safer for everyone.