Most drivers know that drinking and driving can result in serious injury or death, thanks to the work of groups such as M.A.D.D. and other public safety advocates. But very few realize that sleep deprivation, even at seemingly minimal levels, can be just as dangerous behind the wheel as drinking.
According to a new report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drivers who miss just one to two hours of the recommended seven-hour sleep cycle in a 24-hour period nearly double at risk of crashing.
The risk of crashing more than quadruples when drivers miss between two and three hours of sleep, the study found. The crash risk for sleep-deprivation correlates with the risk the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration associates with driving over the legal limit for alcohol.
“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said. “Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”
Compounding the danger is the notion that many drivers feel they can fight the effects of fatigue and drowsiness and push their limits. The AAA study notes that while the effects of drowsy driving include trouble keeping the eye open, drifting from lanes, and the inability to remember the last few miles driven, falling asleep often comes without warning.
“More than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel,” AAA reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep daily, and nowhere are the results more apparent than on the roads. More than one in five fatal crashes in the U.S. are attributed to drowsy driving.