The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

August 17, 2015

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board cited a Walmart truck driver’s fatigue as the chief cause of a crash on the N.J. Turnpike last year that killed one man and seriously injured four others, including comedian Tracy Morgan.

“The fact is, sleepiness and driving is a dangerous combination” says Jeffrey P. Barasch, M.D., FACCP, FAASM; director of Pulmonology and medical director, The Center for Sleep Medicine at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersy. “While most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, they don’t realize that sleepiness can impair driving performance as much as or more so than alcohol.”

drowsy driver

Drowsy driving has many causes, including insufficient or poor night-time sleep, shiftwork, medications or alcohol, or a variety of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

In a 2012 study, The American Automobile Association estimated that drowsy driving was responsible for 7 percent of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle was towed, 13 percent of crashes that resulted in a person being admitted to a hospital, and 16.5 percent of fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver.

In addition, fatigue and inattention due to sleep deprivation are considered significant factors in several disastrous accidents, including the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker.

According to Dr. Barasch, here are some signs that mean you should stop and rest:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids.
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts.
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs.
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes.
  • Trouble keeping your head up.
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating or hitting a shoulder rumble strip.
  • Feeling restless and irritable.

In view of the dangers of drowsy driving, several states are considering legislation that would allow police to charge drowsy drivers with criminal negligence if they injure or kill someone while driving if they have not had adequate sleep. In fact, in 2003 New Jersey became the first state to do so with the passage of “Maggie’s Law.” The law states that a sleep-deprived driver qualifies as a reckless driver who can be convicted of vehicular homicide.

Source: Valley Health System

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