Driving Tired: As Dangerous as Drunk Driving

February 23, 2016 by

Thanks to the efforts of advocacy organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, our attitudes toward drunk driving have evolved over the past few decades. Driving after a few drinks used to be seen as a minor indiscretion, and the resulting wrecks were usually labeled as “accidents” that could happen to anyone. Today, we rightfully view drunk driving crashes as cases of criminal negligence and prosecute them accordingly.

But what about operating a motor vehicle while tired or drowsy? Most of us are guilty of driving with heavy eyelids at some point, whether it’s due to a busy schedule or a long-haul commute. For that matter, it’s even a social norm for many young people: An all-nighter behind the wheel on a road trip with friends can seem like a college-age rite of passage.

Unfortunately, our collective attitudes toward driving tired need to catch up to the data, which reveals that getting behind the wheel when you’re in need of sleep could lead to disastrous results.

Some Facts about Drowsy Driving

In 2010, the popular television show MythBusters took on the claim that drowsy driving was as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Two of the hosts got behind the wheel and compared their results on a closed driving course, once after a couple shots of hard alcohol and again after staying up for 30 hours straight.

Their results were definitive: both hosts fared much worse without sleep – one about three times worse and the other about ten times. And while a popular TV show may not be the best resource for hard data, there are plenty of other studies and research findings to support the MythBusters team’s conclusion:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013.
  • The CDC reports that an estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers have fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days.
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that drowsy driving causes 12.5 percent of fatal crashes – and that 60 percent of sleep-related crashes involve drivers younger than 30 years old.
  • A study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine examined the performance of employees from the transport industry and military on certain tests, some over a period of 28 hours sleep deprivation and others after measured doses of alcohol. The researchers found that after 17 to 19 hours without sleep, subjects performed about the same as those with a 0.05% BAC; longer periods without sleep led to performance roughly equal to those with a 0.1% BAC, the maximum dose of alcohol examined in the study.t

Almost all sources note that the alarming statistics on sleep-related crashes are actually too conservative because tired driving frequently goes unreported as a vehicular crash factor. Furthermore, police officers usually aren’t trained to identify drowsiness as a crash factor, and there is no simple, scientific test – like a breathalyzer – that they can perform to verify sleep deprivation.

The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCA) also reports that driver fatigue has been identified as an important crash cause in commercial trucking accidents, but they also indicate that accurate numerical estimates are not yet available. The FMCA also states in the same report that regulations on truck drivers’ hours of service are controversial and widely violated, and the FMCA proposes that further study is needed to clarify the problem and develop appropriate regulations.

A Few Tips to Fight Fatigue

The statistics clearly paint drowsy driving as a dangerous and negligent decision that should be avoided at all costs. However, a long commute or boring landscape can make even the most well-rested driver feel fatigued. These tips should help you wake up when mild fatigue sets in:

1. Take a break. For every 2 or 3 hours that you have to drive, stop for 20 minutes or so. Stretch your legs and walk around a little. The mild physical activity should improve your circulation and alertness level.

2. Avoid heavy meals. Skip those large fast-food portions before and during a trip. A big meal can make you feel sleepy; if you’re very hungry, have two or three small meals over a longer course of time. Try to get out of your car and enter an establishment to sit down and eat, and never eat while you’re driving.

3. Stop at a rest area. Rest stops don’t get their name from having restrooms. It’s always acceptable to nap in your car at a state-operated rest area, so pull over and refresh yourself with some sleep if you’re struggling to stay alert.

4. Drink coffee. Caffeine is no substitute for a good night’s sleep, but a quick dose can help your alertness in the short term.

Call Hossley & Embry if You’ve Been Hurt in a Crash

Unfortunately, car accidents can happen to the most alert and well-rested drivers, especially if another driver was engaging in negligent behavior. If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, call the law offices of Hossley & Embry at (866) 522-9265. Our attorneys work every day to help victims get the compensation they deserve. Call our office or fill out a convenient form on our website today for a free confidential consultation.


Driving tired. (n.d.). Discovery.com. Retrieved from http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/about-this-show/tired-vs-drunk-driving/

Drowsy driving: Asleep at the wheel. (2015, November 5). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdrowsydriving/

El-Guebaly, N. (2005, February 4). Don’t drink and drive: the successful message of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). World Psychiatry, 4(1), 35-36. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1414720/

Facts and stats. (n.d.). DrowsyDriving.org. Retrieved from http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/

Large truck crash causation study (LTCCS) analysis series: Using LTCCS data for statistical analyses of crash risk. (2014, December 9). Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/research-and-analysis/large-truck-crash-causation-study-ltccs-analysis-series-using-ltccs

Netzer, J. (2014, December 4). The teen driving danger no one is talking about. Quoted. Retrieved from https://www.thezebra.com/insurance-news/653/teen-driving-danger/

Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A.M. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57, 649-655. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1739867/

Categories: Driving Safety