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Drowsy driving: how dangerous is it?

It is likely that you have been in a situation where you exhibited symptoms of drowsiness while driving. Your eyelids start to droop, your thoughts become less coherent, you find that you need to slam on the brakes in order to stop for a red light or the car in front of you. Drowsy driving is not uncommon, but studies have proven it dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 25 individuals have fallen asleep at the wheel and drowsy driving has caused 72,000 crashes in recent years. Why is drowsy driving so dangerous and how can you prevent it from happening to you while behind the wheel?

What is drowsy driving?

A sleep education website states that drowsy driving “occurs when a person who is operating a motor vehicle is too tired to remain alert.” Symptoms of drowsy driving include:

  • Yawning
  • Watering, drooping or rapidly blinking eyes
  • Difficulty focusing on the road, daydreaming
  • Head nodding or lolling
  • Difficulty holding a speed
  • Unintentionally merging from your lane

How dangerous is drowsy driving? The National Safety Council states that drowsy driving has similar effects as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Specifically, after being awake for 20 hours or more, an individual has equivalent reaction time and attention span as someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration.

How can you prevent drowsy driving?

The easiest way to prevent accidents from drowsy driving is to not get behind the wheel if you are tired, or to stop and rest if you notice yourself exhibiting symptoms of drowsy driving. However, we do not always have the choice to abstain from driving. Ways to stay alert while on the road include:

  • Drive with someone: Having another person in the car can help you stay attentive.
  • Stop to stretch: If you notice yourself falling asleep, stopping at a rest stop or gas station to get out of the car can help you regain alertness.
  • Consume caffeine: caffeine can aid in speeding up reaction time on the road.

It can be really difficult to stay alert while driving, especially if you are driving for long periods of time. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the consequences of drowsy driving.

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