Too many people driving while intoxicated is one of the most serious motor vehicle-related crimes one can commit. It’s incredibly dangerous and can change lives in a fraction of a second. It’s also an extremely pervasive problem in the U.S., as people drive drunk almost 300,000 times in the average day.
But there’s another common problem many drivers commit behind the wheel that can do just as much harm: drowsy driving. You might not think mere sleepiness could possibly be as hazardous as driving under the influence of alcohol. However, statistics show that there really isn’t much difference – in terms of risk – between the two. In fact, someone who has gone 24 hours without sleep suffers effects equivalent to having a .10 BAC level. That’s certainly above the legal limit and will undoubtedly impair your ability to react quickly, process and retain information, and pay attention to your surroundings.
In some ways, drowsy driving can actually be worse than drunk driving. Many DUI lawyers and sleep experts will point out that while drunk drivers may try to slow down and react to road conditions, drowsy drivers may nod off at high speeds or fail to swerve to avoid a collision. In that sense, drowsy driving can result in far more damage.
According to the CDC, over 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents in 2013. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 accidents in the U.S. can be attributed to drowsy driving in the average year. One 2012 study found that both drunk driving and drowsy driving double your risk of causing a car accident. Ultimately, both situations are very prevalent and potentially life-threatening.
While there is no test for sleepy drivers that’s equivalent to chemical testing for intoxicated drivers, both situations will require reputable legal help if you are involved in an accident. Of course, you should never drink and drive – but you should never try to drive while drowsy, either. A recent AAA study found that missing just one or two hours of sleep can have a huge effect on your car accident risk; missing out on three or four hours of sleep actually increases your crash risk by 400%. By making sure to stick to a regular sleep schedule and to recognize when you are simply too tired to drive safely, you may be able to avoid a horrific accident and the need for legal help.