Is Driving Tired Comparable to Driving Drunk?

by Andrew Mounier on November 14, 2013

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As frenzied and demanding as our lives are, it’s no wonder that 30 percent of adults only get 6 hours or less of sleep each night. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough sleep for many people, and the result is exhaustion and fatigue. In an effort to keep up with life’s pace, tired drivers head to work and other activities, creating a danger for themselves and others who are sharing the road. Shockingly, driving while drowsy has been shown to affect our bodies in ways comparable to drunk driving.

Drunk Driving Similarities The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 1 out of every 6 car accidents occurs as a result of a tired driver. The reason for this is that when people are sleep-deprived, our bodies function in a way similar to how they would function if we were intoxicated. After about 18 hours of being awake, our cognitive skills are similar to someone with a blood alcohol content of .05%, and after 24 hours without sleep, we are impaired as if we had a BAC of .10%. Here are a few specific ways in which driving while tired mimics drunk driving behavior:

  • Slower reaction time


  • Less attentive


  • Decreases overall performance and vigilance


  • Increases aggressive behavior


  • Impedes decision making ability


  • Impairs vision

As dangerous as it is to drive while drowsy, it does get worse. Just as some people become so intoxicated that they pass out, other people get so tired behind the wheel that they actually fall asleep.

Falling Asleep at the Wheel According to a study released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 out of every 25 drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel within the preceding thirty day period. Of course, that number only represents people who are actually aware that this has happened. Those figures don’t include microsleep, which occurs when someone falls asleep for a moment, but isn’t aware of it. The number in that case would likely be much higher. Regardless of how long someone is asleep at the wheel, this can be a deadly scenario that should be avoided altogether.

Preventive Measures The good news is that preventing the danger is simple. Just like someone who has been drinking alcohol avoids an accident by handing their keys to a designated driver, a drowsy driver can, and should, do the same thing. There are other things that can be done to avoid drowsy driving, especially when planning a road trip, or for those who have a long daily commute. Here’s an abbreviated list, courtesy of AAA.

  • Travel with others and take turns driving


  • Regularly get at least 7 hours of sleep


  • Take a break, or change drivers, every two hours or 100 miles


  • Avoid eating heavy foods that may make you tired


  • Avoid taking medications that cause drowsiness (including “non-drowsy” antihistamines)


  • If possible, only drive during the times of day when you are usually awake

Driving while drowsy is attributed to as many as 30,000 injury accidents and 6,000 fatal car accidents a year. So, if you find that you missed your exit off the freeway, are drifting from lane to lane, or blinking and yawning frequently, take a few minutes and pull over. Those are indicators that you may be driving while drowsy. Remember, while you may be driving sober, that doesn’t mean that you’re driving safely.

Andrew Mounier
Andrew Mounier is a Content Engineer and Author. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life for the world to enjoy. He is also an avid legal blogger and currently working on a book with his wife about social entrepreneurship. He is a true Socialpreneur and finds that his goal in life is to be an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.
Andrew Mounier
Andrew Mounier

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