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Drowsy Driving

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Most people realize the dangers of driving under the influence as well as the dangers inherent in talking or texting while driving. There is another danger on Florida’s roadways, however, that motorists should be aware of – drowsy driving. In fact, many experts believe that a drowsy driver presents a danger to other motorists that are equal to that of a drunk driver.

Statistics relating to the number of injuries and fatalities caused by drowsy or fatigued drivers each year are difficult to come by because drivers are often reluctant to self-report nodding off at the wheel prior to an accident. In addition, state reporting and recordkeeping practices vary widely. In Florida, for instance, the standard crash report used by law enforcement officers responding to a collision does not even list “drowsy driving” or “fatigued driving” as a possible contributing cause. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA estimates though that over 100,000 crashes each year are caused by a drowsy driver. Furthermore, the NHTSA conservatively estimates that over 70,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year are caused by a fatigued driver.

To better understand the prevalence of drowsy driving across America, consider the results of a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2005. The survey found that 60 percent of all drivers admitted to driving while drowsy within the previous year with more than one in three admitting to actually falling asleep behind the wheel. Four percent of respondents admitted to causing an accident as a result of fatigued driving within the past year.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study to try and better understand the risks of driving drowsy. They concluded that a driver who has only had six or seven hours of sleep is twice as likely to be involved in a crash as his counterpart who slept for eight hours the night before. That risk increases to four or five times the normal risk for a driver who has had less than five hours of sleep.

Probably the most shocking study on the effects of drowsy driving, however, was done by Australian researchers who wanted to compare fatigued driving to drunk driving. The study found that a driver who has been awake for 18 hours has, on average, an impairment rating equal to the driver with a blood-alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.05. By the time that the driver reaches the point of being awake for 24 hours, his or her impairment is comparable to a driver with a BAC of 0.10 – over the legal limit for driving under the influence.