Get plenty of rest to avoid becoming a highway safety problem

Brent Jennings, PE
Highway Safety Manager

Ever hear someone say “Man, I need more sleep!” Do you agree that getting a solid five to six hours of shut eye a night will ensure you’re well rested and ready to drive? Think again, say researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

A team at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine found that people who average fewer than six hours of sleep each night are three times more likely to report having driven while drowsy in the last month, compared with people who get seven or more hours a night.

People who sleep five or fewer hours a night are four times as likely to report drowsy driving, compared with their seven or more hour counterparts.

“Falling asleep at the wheel is a major cause of road crashes. It might even be more of a problem than drunk driving, since it is responsible for more serious crashes per year,” said study researcher Dr. Michael Grandner. “We already know that people who are sleep-deprived in the laboratory have impaired driving performance, but we haven’t been able to better define what sleep profiles and patterns put drivers in the general population at the highest risk.”

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine publication found that, like drunk driving, drowsy driving doubles a motorist’s crash risk. Sleepiness can impair drivers by causing slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment, and delays in processing information. Being awake for more than 20 hours results in impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08%. It is also possible to fall into a 3- to 4-second micro-sleep without realizing it.

The Centers for Disease Control study released earlier this year showed that one in 24 adults in the U.S. have reported falling asleep at the wheel. These numbers may be even higher, since nodding off while driving can happen so quickly and may go unnoticed. While the amount of sleep each person requires varies, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night and teens get even more. Sleep is vitally important for teens, the group with the highest crash risk.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study conducted in 2012 found that one in seven licensed drivers 16 to 24 years of age admitted to nodding off at least once while driving in the past year, compared to one in ten of all licensed drivers who drove drowsy.

In an effort to reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes and save lives, the National Sleep Foundation is once again sponsoring its annual Drowsy Driving Prevention Week®. This year, the campaign takes place November 3-10, which coincides with the end of daylight savings time. The campaign provides public education about the under-reported risks of driving while drowsy and countermeasures to improve safety on the road. States are encouraged to educate motorists about the importance of sleep and its impact on their safety behind the wheel.

Learn more about drowsy driving at the National Sleep Foundation’s drowsy driving website:

Although not often thought of as a major highway safety issue in Idaho, it is worthy of our attention as we continue our comprehensive efforts Towards Zero Deaths.


Published 11-1-13