Most professional drivers have a healthy respect for drinking alcohol and driving. They understand it’s dangerous, illegal and that it could end their driving careers. Driving while you are sleepy can be just as dangerous. In fact, it can be like driving drunk.
This comparison comes from research studies examining the effect of drowsiness on a person’s ability to perceive and react. In one study, driving after not sleeping for 18 hours was equivalent to having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) equal to 0.05.1 Driving after not sleeping for up to 24 hours was comparable to having a BAC of 0.1, over the legal limit for automobile drivers and more than double the legal limit for commercial driver’s license holders.
Professional drivers fall into a category of workers who are at a higher risk of drowsy driving, according to the National Sleep Foundation.2 One reason is because they regularly work long schedules. They also frequently drive during the early morning and late night when the risk of drowsy driving is highest. Some also suffer from untreated sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea.
How can you lower your risk?
Here are some tips for drivers:
- Get enough sleep. Although it can vary from person to person, sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep each day to feel fully rested and alert.
- Plan effectively so you have time to get a good night’s sleep. If you use a sleeper berth, plan ahead for a safe place to park for the night before you get drowsy.
- Know when to say “no.” Don’t commit to a trip if it means driving excessive hours without the opportunity to get the sleep you need, especially if it also requires you to be awake when you would normally be sleeping.
- Take breaks and naps. Stop regularly to take a break and stretch. A short nap can also help.
- Avoid medications that can cause drowsiness. Read warning labels before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications that can cause drowsiness while you drive.
- Talk to your doctor about potential sleep disorders and treatment if you have difficulties sleeping, suffer from frequent daytime sleepiness or snore loudly every night.
- Recognize when you are drowsy. Don’t ignore the warning signs. If you feel drowsy, make the right decision to find a safe place to stop and get rest.
Drowsy Driving Facts
- One in 10 drivers say they have fallen asleep at the wheel during the past year
- One out of eight injury crashes requiring hospitalization is due to drowsy driving
- One out of six deadly crashes are the direct result of drowsy driving
Fleet managers and company owners also play a role in controlling drowsy driving. It starts by respecting drivers’ sleep needs. Adhering to the hours-of-service rules is another basic step. Also consider how much time drivers have spent working and resting when assigning work. Be aware of health problems that might contribute to drowsiness. Finally, provide training and resources aimed at building awareness about the importance of sleep and the dangers of drowsy driving. A good place to start is drowsydriving.org, a website sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation.
1 Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication, University of New South Wales School of Psychology, 2000.
2 Who is at Risk, National Sleep Foundation, drowsydriving.org, Accessed 11-21-2016