We’ve all seen the harrowing TV ads warning us about the dangers of drink driving (see our guide on what to do if you spot a drunk driver on the road). But what gets less attention is drowsy driving. And according to researchers, it’s just as dangerous.
The Sleep Health Foundation has found that 17 hours without sleep is like driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. And after 24 hours, it rises to 0.10%. That’s twice the legal limit.
Young drivers are most at risk, with 55% of drowsy driving accidents involving those aged 25 or younger. But drowsy driving isn’t just a problem among our P-platers. According to the 2016 Sleep Health Survey, 29% of adults admit to driving while overtired at least once a month.
These figures are alarming, but when it comes to drowsy driving, prevention is possible. We sort fact from fiction below, so you know how to stay alert and safe on the road. Planning a road trip? Click here to find your nearest rest stops.
Fact or Fiction?
Up to 30% of fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue.
Fact - Researchers estimate that between 20 – 30% of fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue. We can’t underestimate just how dangerous driving while drowsy is, not just for those behind the wheel but for all road users.
I’ll just have a coffee, I’ll be right.
Fiction - Stimulants such as caffeine only help you feel more alert for a short time. The best remedy for fatigue is always sleep. Just a 20-minute nap is all you need to reduce the risks of driving while fatigued.
Being tired can cause lapses in judgment.
Fact - As a tired driver, you actually have a slower mental processing speed and reaction time than an alert driver. This means you won't be as quick to respond to hazards and are a risk to yourself, and those motor vehicles around you.
I’m a safe driver, I can cope with being tired.
Fiction - No matter how safe a driver you are, you’re not immune to the effects of sleep-deprivation.
Younger people can get away with less sleep.
Fiction - Young people in their teens and 20s actually need more sleep than people in their 30s, and they’re the demographic most at risk for drowsy driving accidents.
A power nap can help you stay awake.
Fact - Pulling over somewhere safe and taking a short nap of 15-20 minutes can reduce the effects of fatigue. You might think you can’t nap - especially not in the car - but give it a try. Pull over, lie down for fifteen minutes and see if you can relax enough to fall asleep.
Most importantly, stay alert
The best way to prevent a drowsy driving accident is to get enough sleep, especially the night before a long drive. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, most fatigue-related accidents happen when you’ve had less than six hours. The average person needs seven or eight, so keep that in mind next time you’re planning a longer drive.
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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: December 5, 2017.