Don’t drive if you’re sleep-deprived. About four percent of drivers say they have fallen asleep behind the wheel during the past month, and 11 percent during the past year, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even when sleepy drivers manage to stay awake, drowsiness slows reaction time, reduces attentiveness and impairs decision-making skills and judgment. This can lead to accidents.
Drowsy-driver crashes, which most commonly occur at night and during midafternoon, are more likely to result in serious injuries and fatalities than other crashes. Research has estimated that drowsy driving is a factor in at least 15 percent of all fatal traffic crashes.
In fact, sleep deprivation can be as dangerous as alcohol for drivers, resulting in more than 100,000 car crashes in the U.S. each year and 1,500 deaths.
According to Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., a well-known sleep researcher at Harvard Medical School, sleeping only four hours a night for five nights, on average, or five hours a night for a week can impair you as much as being awake for 24 hours—or being legally drunk. And having one beer in that sleepy condition has the effect of a six pack.
If you have to drive, pull off the road right away if you notice yourself drifting from your lane, blinking or yawning a lot, especially if you can’t keep your head up. A roadside nap can be a lifesaver. If there’s another driver in the car, give up the wheel.
Originally published May 2013. Updated October 2013.