A recent study, just published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, has confirmed that inadequate sleep increases the risk of car crashes for young drivers. The study was conducted in New South Wales, Australia, and interviewed more than 19,000 young, newly licensed drivers; all were between 17 and 24. The researchers asked the drivers questions about their sleep habits, including how many hours they slept on weeknights and weekends, then tracked the participants for two years, and obtained police reports to document car crashes.
The drivers who reported sleeping six or fewer hours per night were about 20 percent more likely to be involved in a car crash over a two-year period, compared with those who slept more than six hours a night. Among the sleep-deprived, car crashes were more likely to occur between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. than at other hours. The researchers accounted for other factors that affect car crash risk-age, number of driving hours per week, risky driving behavior-and sleep deprivation stood out as a serious influence. Of drivers who reported getting six or fewer hours of sleep a night, 9.4 percent were involved in a crash, compared with 6.9 percent of drivers who reported more than six hours of sleep a night.
In the United States, it's estimated that drowsy driving is responsible for 20 percent of all car crashes-but the majority of studies around this issue have not focused on young people. The researchers added that educating young drivers to prevent drowsy driving should become a priority, as "this group experiences more impairment in alertness, mood and physical performance compared with older age groups with similar sleep deprivation."
Driving tired doesn't get as much attention as distracted driving and drunk driving, but it's a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates drowsy drivers cause 100,000 automobile crashes annually, resulting in 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. These figures may be the tip of the iceberg, since currently it is difficult to attribute crashes to sleepiness.
·There is no test to determine drowsiness as there is for intoxication
·State reporting practices are inconsistent. There is little or no police training in identifying drowsiness as a crash factor..
·Drowsiness/fatigue may play a role in crashes attributed to other causes such as alcohol. About one million such crashes annually are thought to be produced by driver inattention/lapses.
·According to data from Australia, England, Finland, and other European nations, all of whom have more consistent crash reporting procedures than the U.S., drowsy driving represents 10 to 30 percent of all crashes.
Symptoms of drowsy driving are similar to DUI: slower reflexes and reaction times, comprised memory (forgetting the last few miles driven), lowered alertness, difficulty focusing, restlessness and irritability, swerving and drifting, missing turns, and difficulty keeping your head up. Really, even driving to work safely requires sleeping seven to nine hours the night before. It's pretty much common sense, but bears repeating that alcohol and sedating pharmaceuticals and OTC drugs should be avoided when driving. On a long drive, schedule in rest times. Whenever possible, have two adult drivers in the vehicle, so you can trade shifts. Stopping often to stretch and get fresh air is helpful; chewing gum and chugging coffee are not actually that useful over a longer span of time.