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What Causes Falling Asleep while Driving?

drowsy driving

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowsy driving is responsible for more than 70,000 motor vehicle crashes each year. Hundreds of individuals are killed and tens of thousands are injured in these types of accidents, and they are one of the leading contributors to motor vehicle-related fatalities.

Driving while drowsy or fatigued is dangerous for a number of reasons. Drowsy drivers tend to be less attentive to what is happening on the road, and when they encounter hazardous conditions, they have slower reaction times and are often unable to effectively handle an adverse situation that may arise. Of course, in the worst cases, a drowsy driver may end up falling asleep at the wheel, which can result in disastrous consequences.

How Common is Falling Asleep while Driving?

Falling asleep at the wheel is far more common than most people believe. According to a National Sleep Foundation Poll, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling drowsy, and 37% have admitted to falling asleep while driving during the past year. In addition, according to the CDC report cited earlier, one out of every 25 drivers report that they have fallen asleep at the wheel during the past 30 days.

What Causes Someone to Fall Asleep at the Wheel?

Driving while tired or fatigued can cause a person to fall asleep at the wheel under the wrong set of circumstances. While this can happen to anyone, there are certain groups who are more susceptible to this hazard:

  • Sleep-Deprived Drivers: It comes as no surprise that motorists who do not get enough sleep are far more likely to drive while drowsy and fall asleep at the wheel. In general, those who get less than 7 hours of sleep a night are most susceptible to drowsy or fatigued driving due to sleep deprivation.
  • Young or New Drivers: The National Sleep Foundation says that sleep-related crashes are highly common among younger drivers or drivers who just got their license. New drivers are less experienced and tend to take more chances, which makes them more likely to drive without getting enough rest.
  • Commercial Drivers: Those who drive for a living have a strong tendency to drive without getting enough rest and stay on the road longer than they should. This is especially common with over-the-road truckers, who are often under pressure by shipping companies to deliver their loads on time. Other commercial drivers that fall into this category include bus drivers, delivery drivers, cab drivers, and those who drive for ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
  • Shift Workers: Individuals who work long shifts or extended hours that go late into the evening or into the early morning hours often have a hard time staying awake while driving home after their shift is over.
  • Drivers with Untreated Sleep Disorders: Those who drive with untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea have an increased risk of “micro sleep” episodes. This is harmless if you are lying on the couch watching TV, but an episode like this behind the wheel can be disastrous.
  • Drivers who use Sleep-Inducing Medications: Some individuals depend on medications which have drowsiness as a potential side effect. Taking medications like this shortly before driving can be a deadly combination.
  • Travelers: Individuals who drive long distances for travel and those who fly a lot and change time zones frequently have a tendency to drive more often when they are tired and sleepy.
  • Drunk Drivers: After decades of public relations campaigns, some individuals still make the horrible decision to get behind the wheel after they have had too much to drink. Driving while intoxicated not only causes people to make poor driving decisions, it can also make them sleepy at the wheel.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

The best way to make sure you have an adequate amount of rest before driving is to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep ahead of time. Here are some other steps you can take to prevent falling asleep while driving:

  • Take a short nap of around 20 minutes or so before driving;
  • If you are traveling with others who can drive, switch drivers about every 2 hours;
  • Do not be in a hurry and take frequent breaks to rest up during your trip;
  • If at all possible, avoid driving between the hours of midnight and 6:00 AM;
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of sleepiness, such as yawning, inability to keep your eyes focused, and drifting from your lane, and either switch drivers or pull over for a break if any of these warning signs appear.

Injured in a Drowsy Driving Accident in Kentucky? Call the Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers at John H Ruby and Associates

You may do everything possible to prevent drowsy driving yourself, but you can’t do anything about other drivers on the road. If you or someone close to you was injured in an accident that was caused by a drowsy driver, it is important to speak with a skilled auto accident attorney, so you understand your legal rights and options.

If you are in the Louisville, LaGrange or Shelbyville, Ky areas, call the law offices of John H. Ruby & Associates today at 502-895-2626 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our office in person at your convenience.