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Why Drowsy Driving is as Bad as Drunk Driving

Once, a couple of years ago, I was the designated driver at a party for one of my friends. We ended up celebrating until the wee hours of the morning, and although I didn’t have a single drink, I still felt so tired we ended up catching a taxi home. It seems my decision to hail a cab was a wise one: the National Sleep Foundation is encouraging all drivers to take a pledge against drowsy driving, saying it can be as dangerous as driving drunk.

A lack of sleep can lead to an impaired ability to focus and stay alert while driving. According to the National Institutes for Health, cognitive impairment after approximately 18 hours awake is similar to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. After 24 hours awake, cognitive abilities are impaired to a level similar to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent, which is higher than the legal limit of 0.08 percent in the US. 

“Drowsy driving is a public safety issue that needs to be addressed,” said David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. “We believe the public can help decrease drowsy driving and improve the safety of our roads by taking the Pledge, contacting local legislators to support drowsy driving prevention efforts, and establishing a routine that fights fatigue and supports a healthy sleep lifestyle.”

A 2008 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 36 percent of Americans have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving. 60 percent of Americans said that they had driven a vehicle while drowsy. 

100,000 crashes are reported as a direct result of driver fatigue each year. These result in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in financial losses. These figures may just be the tip of the iceberg, since it’s difficult to attribute an accident to driver fatigue unless a fatigued driver admits to driving while drowsy.

According to data from countries like Australia, England and Finland, which have more consistent crash reporting figures than the US, driving while drowsy may account for between 10 to 30 percent of all crashes. The combination of drowsiness and alcohol is particularly lethal.

Studies have shown that young men are most likely to drive drowsy, and men in general are more likely to drive drowsy than women. Men and women with children are more likely to drive drowsy compared to those without children, while shift workers are also frequent drowsy drivers.


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