Most people know that distracted and impaired drivers are a serious source of risk on the road. Studies show that an increasing number of people indulge in unnecessary distractions while driving motor vehicles, including using mobile devices. However, another risk factor that far too many people overlook when it comes to traffic safety is the danger of driving while fatigued.
Drowsy drivers are a serious risk to everyone else on the road. You may not worry about people who drive while tired — but you should. You should also commit yourself to not getting behind the wheel when you’re too tired to drive safely. While it can be difficult to determine if exhaustion played a role in a crash, driving while tired can absolutely lead to an otherwise preventable collision.
Drowsy drivers act a lot like drunk drivers
The scary thing about fatigue is the way it impacts your mind. The more tired you become, the harder it is to make good decisions. You may struggle with focusing on the road. Paying attention to the task at hand is difficult when tiredness impacts executive functions. It’s easy to see how that could lead to a collision, just as distraction can.
Fatigued driving can also mean that it takes you longer to react to hazards on the road ahead. If you have to swerve or suddenly brake, you may not do it in time. Finally, exhaustion can impact your ability to make swift decisions. You may swerve to avoid a squirrel, crash your car and suffer injuries because you couldn’t think of a better way to handle the situation.
More people may be driving while tired than you realize
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 4percent of adult drivers report falling asleep at the wheel in the last 30 days. It’s hard to gauge how exhaustion impacts driving safety, as drivers may not report honestly about feeling tired. Other times, adrenaline or injuries will cover telltale signs of drowsy driving.
However, estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put the number of exhaustion-related crashes in 2013 (the most recent year with data available) in the United States at around 72,000. That’s nearly 200 crashes a day. Those crashes caused 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths.
If you see another driver swerving, yawning, drifting across lanes or going over a rumble strip, those could be warning signs of an exhausted driver. If you are in a vehicle with someone who is tired, ask if you can take over driving. If you see another person driving drowsy on the road, you should do your best to avoid them by changing your route or slowing down.