Reuters recently reported that 1.9 million people are involved in car accidents and near misses every year. The National Sleep
Foundation’s 2009 Sleep in America poll shows that 1% or as many as 1.9 million drivers have had a car crash or a near miss due to drowsiness in the past year. Even more surprising, 54% of drivers (105 million) have driven while drowsy at least once in the past year, and 28% (54 million) do so at least once per month.
“People underestimate how tired they are and think that they can stay awake by sheer force of will,” said Thomas Balkin, Ph.D., Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. “This is a risky misconception. Would there be 1.9 million fatigue-related crashes or near misses if people were good at assessing their own ability to drive when fatigued?”
“The problem,” says Balkin, “is that although we are pretty good at recognizing when we feel sleepy, we do not recognize the process of actually falling asleep as it is happening. The process robs us of both self-awareness and awareness of our environment. All it takes is a moment of reduced awareness to cause a car crash.”
Studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal limit in all states. Like alcohol, fatigue slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. But unlike an awake driver impaired by alcohol, a sleeping driver is unable to take any action to avoid a car crash.
As I discussed a few days ago, the federal government could step in and require truck drivers to take an hour break for rest every ten hours. Based on the above statistics, that seems to be appropriate action that could cut down on some of the dangerous driving on our nation’s highways. We will watch this closely.
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