Sleep-deprived driving is the operation of a motor vehicle while being cognitively impaired by a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents, and it can impair the human brain as much as alcohol can. According to a 1998 survey, 23% of adults have fallen asleep while driving.
In the United States, 250,000 drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and in a national poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 54% of adult drivers said they had driven while drowsy during the past year with 28% saying they had actually fallen asleep while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes, resulting in 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually.
The effects of sleep deprivation on driving performance
Sleep deprivation has been proven to affect driving ability in three areas:
- It impairs coordination.
- It causes longer reaction times.
- It impairs judgment.
Numerous studies have found that sleep deprivation can affect driving as much as (and sometimes more than) alcohol. British researchers have found that driving after 17 to 18 hours of being awake is as harmful as driving with a blood alcohol level of .05%, the legal limit in many European countries. Men under 30 are more likely to be in an accident caused by sleep deprivation. Sleep-deprived driving is a major problem in truckers.
Government response to sleep-deprived driving
Governments had attempted to reduce sleep-deprived driving through education messages, legislative acts and by ingraining roads with dents, known as rumble strips, which cause a noise when drivers wander out of their lane.