How exasperating sleep can be. Home in your comfortable bed, you may toss and turn, unable to find slumber. But on the road driving, when you need to be alert to survive, staying awake can be a brutal struggle.
It’s depressingly common for drowsy drivers to lose this battle: According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 Sleep in America™ poll, the odds a driver 18 or older has ever nodded off or fallen asleep while driving are 1 in 2.78. And the odds a licensed adult has had an accident or near-accident due to drowsiness in the past year are 1 in 50.
The consequences of drowsy driving accidents are often devastating. Many fatal one-car accidents result from sleepy drivers drifting off the road and slamming into telephone poles or rolling over in ditches. In June 2009, for example, a woman driving on Interstate 49 in Florida fell asleep and drove down an embankment, repeatedly rolling the car. Two passengers died.
Sleeping drivers also frequently collide with other drivers with similarly tragic results. In July 2009, a South Carolina truck driver pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide after falling asleep at the wheel in a construction zone on Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania and plowing into a car in front of him, killing three people.
From a national perspective, the toll from drowsy driving accidents is enormous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver fatigue causes at least 100,000 crashes reported to the police annually, resulting in about 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries each year.
Certain factors make a person more likely to nod off at the wheel. According to the NHTSA, adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are much more likely to drive drowsy than adults in other age groups, and more men than women drive while drowsy. Other factors that raise the risk include being a shiftworker, getting five hours or less of sleep a night, and having an undiagnosed sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.