The amount of attention a problem gets is not necessarily tied to the amount of damage it causes. There are relatively few safety issues with a yearly death toll in the thousands. The largest motor vehicle recalls involve defects that claim a handful of lives. Drunk driving deserves the attention it receives as it kills roughly 10,000 people per year in car and truck accidents. One problem that does not receive enough publicity is that of drowsy driving.
A new report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association details just how widespread the problem of fatigued driving has become. According to the report, more than 80 million people a day drive while sleep-deprived. All those tired drivers take a toll. The report estimates that 5,000 people are killed in drowsy driving accidents per year. The economic cost to our society is estimated at more than $100 billion. The cost to the families of the people lost in these accidents is incalculable.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is trying to put the problem in terms most people understand. The NHTSA now includes fatigued driving within its definition of impaired driving. It provides a comparison of the safety impact of lack of sleep to the consumption of alcohol. The NHTSA lists 21 hours of sleeplessness as having the same impact as a blood alcohol level of .08. If you go 21 hours without sleep, the NHTSA says you are as dangerous behind the wheel as someone who is legally drunk.
Unsurprisingly, teens and young adults were found to be the groups most likely to get into drowsy driving accidents. Also at risk are people who are forced to work nights or work irregular or unusually long hours. While few people would equate the culpability of driving drunk with that of driving after a long shift at work, the truth is that the safety impact is the same. When you get behind the wheel in a state of advanced fatigue, you are putting yourself and everyone else on the road in danger. Drowsy driving is extremely dangerous.
Source: Forbes, “Around 5,000 People Were Killed Las Year Due to Drowsy Driving,” by Tanya Mohn, 8 August 2016;