Falling asleep at the wheel presents obvious dangers to a driver and others on the road, but drowsy driving presents an abundance of other risks as well. Drowsy driving can slow your reaction time, make it harder for you to focus on the road and impact your ability to make decisions. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation compares drowsy driving to drunk driving, noting that the effects of staying awake for 21 hours are like having a blood alcohol level at the legal limit of .08. Yet, many people drive while sleepy each day.

Drowsy driving crashes typically happen between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which adds that people tend to experience dips in their circadian rhythm during both those times. Drowsy driving crashes often involve a driver who is alone in the vehicle and drives off the road at a high speed. These accidents are most common on rural roads and highways. Other behaviors of drowsy drivers may include tailgating and drifting from one lane into another, which can cause collisions with other drivers.

Typical causes of drowsy driving

A recent Consumer Reports article suggests sleep aids may contribute to the number of drowsy drivers on the roads. Most sleep aids should only be taken when someone has seven or more hours to sleep, but many people begin their commute seven hours after taking sleep aids when they are still groggy from the medication.

While sleep aids may contribute to the number of people who drive drowsy, other causes for drowsy driving include side effects or drug interactions with other medications, undiagnosed conditions like sleep apnea or simply not getting enough sleep at night. Some signs you may be too drowsy to drive include difficulty keeping your eyes open, disconnected thoughts, yawning often or rubbing your eyes frequently.

Preventing drowsy driving

The best way to prevent drowsy driving is to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Some other actions you can take to prevent drowsy driving include avoiding driving during peak sleepiness periods, verifying that your medications do not cause drowsiness, and driving with a companion who can provide conversation and share the responsibility of driving. If you are getting the right number of hours of sleep, but you are still sleepy during the day, you may have a medical condition that should be addressed by a doctor.

Drowsy driving causes many accidents and injuries every year and can be as dangerous as drunk driving. If you have been injured because someone fell asleep at the wheel or was driving when they should not have been, it may be appropriate to seek compensation for your medical expenses.