Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving: Which is worse?

If you’ve ever gotten behind the wheel while feeling drowsy or just tired from the end of a very long work day, then you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60% of adult drivers, or around 168 million people, say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, with about 37%, or 103 million people, actually having fallen asleep at the wheel!

Drowsy driving crashes can result in high personal and economic costs. Plenty of drowsy driving incidents have even resulted in jail sentences for the driver. Multi-million dollar settlements have also been awarded to families of crash victims as a result of lawsuits filed against individuals as well as businesses whose employees were involved in drowsy driving crashes.

Which is worse: driving drunk or driving while you’re tired? The answer is that they’re both equally dangerous, and some studies have even shown that there is no difference at all between the two. Driving while sleepy and driving while drunk both have the potential to double your risk for a car accident. Sleep and alcohol may not seem like they have a lot in common when it comes to driving, but going 24 hours without sleep has been shown to be equal to having a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .10 which is over the legal limit for intoxication. Though driving while exhausted may seem relatively harmless, it has very serious consequences.

Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a sleep-related crash; the less people sleep, the greater the risk. You could get into a car accident and potentially harm yourself or someone else. Approximately eleven million drivers (4%) admit that they have had an accident or near accident because they dozed off or were too tired to drive. In fact, of those who have nodded off, 13% say they have done so at least once a month.

But who is really the most at risk when it comes to drowsy driving and the potential accidents that may occur because of this? Sleep-related crashes are most common in young people, especially men, adults with children, and shift workers. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in such a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more, while people sleeping less than 5 hours increased their risk four to five times. Other research indicates commercial drivers and people with undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and acute insomnia are also at greater risk for fall-asleep crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in total monetary losses.
One of the major problems with preventing drowsy driving is that there are no available tests to determine sleepiness, as there are for intoxication such as a “Breathalyzer.” There is also little or no police training for identifying drowsiness as a crash factor since it cannot be examined after the fact if a crash does occur. Drowsiness or fatigue may also play a role in crashes which are attributed to different causes such as alcohol or other distractions.

So, what should you do if you feel yourself falling asleep behind the wheel? If possible, switch out drivers or pull over to the side of the road and take a short nap if you’re unable to stay alert and focused on the road. The most important thing to remember is to get enough sleep! The average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep a night, so plan that into your schedule and drive safely.

If you are involved in a drowsy driving accident caused by someone who appeared to be asleep at the wheel, or if you are involved in a car accident due to a drunk driver, protect your rights and contact one of our experienced car accident lawyers at Gordon & Gordon Law Firm. Studies have shown that the average person can receive a settlement 3.5x larger when receiving legal assistance from a personal injury lawyer than doing it on their own. For a combined 30 years, Louisiana car accident victims have trusted Gordon & Gordon Law Firm to handle their injury cases. Call 318-716-HELP for more information.