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Drowsy DrivingThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 100,000 vehicle accidents every year are caused by drivers who are fatigued or fall asleep behind the wheel. Driving while drowsy can be extremely dangerous for you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road.

Factors that Lead to Drowsy Driving

The first step toward avoiding drowsy driving is understanding what can lead your mind and body to feel fatigued. Fatigue is about more than just “feeling sleepy”—it is an actual reaction in your body that affects your overall ability to function normally. As a result, it is extremely important to recognize when you are feeling fatigued and get the rest you need before undertaking a dangerous activity, such as driving.

Common causes of fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep (either short-term or chronic)
  • Interrupted or fragmented sleep
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy)
  • Being overworked or exhausted
  • Medications and alcohol consumption

Different people need different amounts of sleep. Different people also need to sleep at different times. Some people can handle driving through the night or starting work before the sun comes up; others simply cannot. When, where, how much, and how well you sleep will all affect your overall level of fatigue.

The Risks of Drowsy Driving

A study published by CNN found that driving while fatigued was just as dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The researchers found that:

“[B]eing awake for 20 hours straight makes the average driver perform as poorly as someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%.”

A blood alcohol level of 0.08% is the legal limit nationwide (including in Illinois) for driving under the influence. Many of the symptoms of extremely fatigued are the same as being drunk:

  • Impaired vision
  • Impaired reaction time and judgment
  • Difficulty processing information
  • Decreased attentiveness and vigilance
  • Increased risk-taking and aggressive behavior

Of course, each one of these alone makes a drowsy driver more like to cause a collision. When you combine them all together, it is easy to see why there are so many fatigue-related auto accidents every year.

What You Can Do to Avoid Driving While Fatigued

  • Always read over-the-counter and prescription drug labels. Never drive while under the influence of drugs that can make you drowsy.
  • Never drink and drive.
  • Try to recognize when you are outside of your normal sleeping pattern, and avoid driving if you think you might get drowsy.
  • If you start to get drowsy in the car, find a safe place to pull over and take a nap.

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