When it comes to driving dangers, news sites and blogs seem full of stories about driving distracted, thanks to cellphones, and a decent bit devote space to stories about driving under the influence of alcohol.
What tends to get less attention is drowsy driving, but the media and others may underestimate its seriousness and prevalence.
What studies show
Studies on night shift workers who have just finished work reliably show a marked difference in their driving abilities because they are driving drowsy. Even those workers who have done shift work a long time are vulnerable. The effects are similar to those a driver would experience with a high BAC, and drowsy drivers can seriously injure themselves and others on the road.
Is drowsy driving really preventable?
Some studies suggest that night shift workers should find other ways home than driving themselves, but is that really realistic? Probably not, but night shift workers can hopefully control for factors such as how much sleep they get before going to work, what they eat and their physical health.
Of course, not all drowsy drivers are those just getting off the night shift. A drowsy driver can be someone at 3 p.m. who has been on the road since 8 a.m. and is nodding off. It can be someone commuting to work at 7 a.m. who got barely any sleep the night before thanks to a crying baby. It can be someone who started a new medication that makes him or her unusually sleepy. In such situations, the drowsy driving can be controlled to some degree as well. For example, someone who is driving for hours on end should take breaks to walk and even nap. Someone starting a new medication should read labels carefully and follow doctors’ instructions. If recommendations are against driving, they should not drive. As for new parents of sleepless babies, they should explore options such as carpooling or even walking/biking to work. Virtually anything is better than taking the risk of driving drowsy.