Drowsy driving is a far too common occurrence today. It's in part due to Americans chronically getting less sleep than they need. More than a third of American adults don't sleep enough on a regular basis.
Lack of Sleep can Mimic the Effects of Drunkenness
When you're sleep deprived and driving, it's a dangerous situation. Going without sleep for 20 to 21 hours has a comparable effect of having a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, the legal limit in most states. Make it to 24 hours, and you'll reach an equivalent of 0.1, higher than the legal limit in all states.
Drowsy driving and drunk driving share many of the safe effects on driver safety. Whether you're drowsy or drunk, you will struggle with driving abilities, including:
Difficulty paying attention to the road
Slower reaction time
Impaired ability to make good decisions
People who snore, or who usually sleep six or fewer hours per day are more likely to report falling asleep while driving. In a survey of 150,000 adults, 4 percent reported that they had fallen asleep while driving at least once in the previous 30 days.
Drivers who don't get enough sleep, commercial drivers, shift workers, drivers with untreated sleep disorders, and drivers who use medications that make them sleepy are the most at risk for drowsy driving, but this can happen to anyone.
Drowsy Drivers are a Danger to Motorcyclists
Motorcyclists are at risk of deadly crashes due to drowsy drivers. The signs of drowsy driving include yawning or blinking frequently, trouble remembering the last few miles you've driven, missing your exit, drifting from your lane, or hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road. Motorcyclists are easily hit if a driver is drifting from his lane, fails to stop in time, or loses control of the vehicle.
Drowsy driving is responsible for an estimated 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths annually. However, it is believed these numbers are underestimated, with up to 6,000 fatal drowsy driving crashes each year.
In Utah, motor vehicle crash deaths caused significant loss of life and financial loss. Crash related deaths cost $268 million in Utah annually. Motorcyclists make up 16 percent of motor vehicle crash deaths at the cost of $43 million. Adults ages 35 to 64 make up the largest age group of motor vehicle deaths, followed shortly by young adults ages 20 to 34.
What Bikers Can do to Stay Safe From Drowsy Drivers
Motorcyclists have to be especially aware of drowsy drivers. Drowsy drivers may drift from their intended lanes and could hit less visible motorcyclists in an adjacent lane.
As a motorcyclist, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of accidents with drowsy drivers:
- Be especially vigilant at night. Motorcyclists should always be on the alert for dangerous drivers, but especially at night. Most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m.
- Avoid riding adjacent to other vehicles. Whenever possible, leave a gap between yourself and other vehicles, so if they happen to drift into your lane, you won't be next to them.
- Stay alert. It's not just drivers you should watch out for, but yourself. Get enough sleep by practicing healthy sleep habits, including maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time, bedtime routine, creating healthy sleep environment, and avoiding sleep pitfalls like caffeine and heavy meals before bed that can keep you from sleeping.
Ben DiMaggio is a researcher for the sleep science and health organization Tuck.com. Ben specializes in investigating how sleep, and sleep deprivation, affect public health and safety. He lives in Portland, Oregon. His worst sleep habit is checking his email right before bed.