Driving while drowsy can be a major safety hazard and can lead to serious accidents. Drowsiness impairs coordination, reaction times, and judgment just like drunk driving. If you get behind the wheel of a vehicle with insufficient sleep, it is easy to drift off into microsleeps, which can cause you to lose control or make other mistakes that could be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (18 years and older) reported falling asleep behind the wheel at least once in the past 30 days.
It is important for drivers of all ages to understand the dangers associated with driving while feeling tired. Drowsy driving can significantly increase the risk of a crash or other accident. While getting the right amount of sleep is key to avoiding drowsiness-related accidents, it is also important to be aware of the warning signs and take steps to stay alert.
In this Article
What is Drowsy Driving and How Does it Affect You?
Drowsy driving is defined as operating a vehicle while being sleep deprived, feeling sleepy, or taking certain medications that can cause drowsiness. It affects everyone differently, depending on how much sleep you’ve had and the type of medication you may be taking.
Higher Risk of a Crashes Involving Drowsy Driving
Sleep deprivation and drowsy driving can have serious consequences for both you and other drivers on the road. Not only does it impair your ability to make quick decisions and react quickly in an emergency situation, but it also increases your risk of being involved in a crash or other accident.
The Risks of Drowsy Driving
To better understand the severity of the dangers of driving while drowsy it’s important to look at the facts. According to research by the Sleep Foundation, about 50% of drivers 18 and older, which is roughly 119 million people as of 2022, admit to getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that there were 684 deaths from drowsy driving related crashes in 2021. But because confirming drowsiness as the cause of a car accident can be difficult, an analysis by the Sleep Foundation determined that the number of drowsy driving fatalities could be as high as 6,000 per year. Also based on their research, it is estimated that the cost of fatigue related motor vehicle crashes is anywhere from $12.5 to $109 billion per year.
Who Is At Risk of Drowsy Driving?
Anybody can find themselves in a situation where they are driving while drowsy, but some people in certain situations are at even greater risk, such as someone with a sleep disorder or those taking over-the-counter medications. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reports that 55% of drowsy driving crashes involve drivers under the age of 25.
Groups at Greater Risk of Drowsy Driving Accidents
Research from the CDC identifies some other greater risk groups as:
Drivers who do not get enough healthy sleep or enough hours of sleep and are operating in a sleep debt.
Commercial drivers who operate vehicles such as tow trucks, tractor trailers, and buses and drove long distances.
Shift workers (who work the night shift, swing shifts, or long shifts).
Drivers with untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts, and other sleep disorders.
People who use medications that make them experience daytime sleepiness. (You should never drive if you’ve taken any kind of sleep medicine.)
Young adult and teen drivers.
Symptoms of Drowsiness While Driving
There are several signs that can indicate you’re feeling drowsy while driving. Some of these include:
Difficulty keeping your eyes open
Daydreaming or having trouble focusing on the road
Making poor decisions and taking longer than usual to react to hazards
Drifting between lanes, tailgating, or driving too fast or too slow
Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road
Don’t take the risk. Take a rest.
If you experience any of these symptoms while driving, it’s important to pull over and take a rest. Taking short 10-minute naps can help refresh your mind and body so that you can safely continue your journey.
Tips to Avoid Falling Asleep at the Wheel
The CDC states that getting enough sleep is key to avoiding drowsy driving. However, even if you get a good night’s sleep (seven to eight hours is recommended), you may still find yourself trying not to fall asleep at the wheel. Here are some other tips that the NHTSA recommends to help get adequate sleep and keep you alert and safe:
Avoid driving late at night or early in the morning.
Avoid drinking alcohol any time before driving.
Check your prescriptions and any over-the-counter medication you may be taking to see if they may cause drowsiness.
Caffeine Is Not Be Enough
While it’s common to drink caffeinated beverages to stave off drowsiness while you drive, it is only recommended as a short-term solution. Even with caffeine, the NHTSA recommends including a 20-minute nap at a well-lit rest stop.
Warning Signs that You Should Pull Over Immediately
If you’re feeling particularly drowsy or sleepy while driving, it is important to pull over and take a break immediately. If you experience any of the following signs, it is critical that you stop and rest as soon as it is safe to:
Difficulty focusing on the road
Not remembering the last few miles
Feeling disoriented or confused
Unexplained drifting or swerving in and out of lanes
Making poor decisions, such as speeding or driving aggressively
Pull Over and Rest
If you experience any of these signs, pull over immediately and take a break. Getting a few minutes of rest can help reduce the risk of an accident and keep you and other drivers safe.
Legal Consequences for Being Caught Driving While Drowsy
To date there is no official vehicle code section in the U.S. for failing to stay awake while driving. However, in the last few years, more states are taking action to enact legislation that could incriminate someone for causing an accident because they were drowsy or fell asleep at the wheel of a car.
In some states if it can be proven that a driver’s sleepiness caused an auto accident, they could be charged with reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter in cases where there is a fatality.
What To Do If I’m In An Accident With a Drowsy Driver
If you are involved in an auto accident with a drowsy driver in Chicago, it’s important that you take the appropriate immediate steps following the incident:
Notify the police that you believe the other driver caused the accident because they were drowsy.
Take photographs of the accident and collect witness information if you’re able.
Seek medical treatment.
Call The Kryder Law Group, LLC Accident and Injury Lawyers for your free consultation.
Contact Us About Your Drowsy Driving Accident Case
Drowsy driving crashes are a serious matter. If you or someone you love has been injured in a car crash in Chicago due to a drowsy driver, a car accident lawyer from The Kryder Law Group, LLC Accident and Injury Lawyers is here to help. We understand the complex legal issues that can arise from accidents with drowsy drivers and have experience fighting for clients’ rights in court.