Blog > Is Driving While Sleep-Deprived More Dangerous Than Driving Drunk?

Is Driving While Sleep-Deprived More Dangerous Than Driving Drunk?

Worried about falling asleep at the wheel? Read about the dangers of drowsy driving, plus practical tips you can use to recognize and prevent yourself from driving when tired.
A blurry view of streetlights and headlights, taken from the perspective of someone who’s intoxicated or sleep-deprived while driving.

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Perhaps you or someone you know has been affected by drowsy or drunk driving.

Unfortunately, drunk driving is more common than it should be. Drunk drivers are responsible for one-third of all traffic-related accidents in the US and approximately one person is killed every 52 minutes due to drunk driving.

Drowsy driving has severe impacts too. Overtired drivers cause more than 100,000 accidents each year in America. While drowsy drivers cause statistically fewer accidents than drunk drivers, the consequences of drowsy driving can be even more catastrophic than drunk driving.

Many people aren’t aware that drowsy driving can have such drastic impacts, however, and this lack of information means that people who would never drive after consuming alcohol may still get behind the wheel when they’re exhausted.

For the safety of yourself and others, it’s important for you to evaluate the consequences of both drunk and drowsy driving and how they compare with one another.

What Happens When You’re Intoxicated?

Alcohol is a depressant; therefore, it slows down your central nervous system, affects your motor skills, and impairs your judgment. Drivers need to have control over their cognition and motor skills to stay safe on the road and prevent accidents. Even one second of distracted driving could have potentially devastating effects.

While a person needs to have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 to be considered legally intoxicated, lower levels of BAC can still impact your ability to drive. With as low as 0.02 BAC, you can experience difficulty tracking objects, declined visual function, and reduced ability to multitask, all of which are necessary to drive safely.

In some ways, these legal parameters may help us make better decisions about how much we drink. With alcohol, there is a clear threshold for dangerous levels of impairment. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, is more difficult to measure.

READ: 7 Steps to Kick Your Bad Habits for Good

What Happens When You’re Sleep-Deprived?

When you’re tired, you experience effects similar to intoxication including slower reaction times, a shorter attention span, and impaired decision-making.

It’s estimated that drowsy driving causes up to 6,000 fatal car crashes each year, although this number is a conservative estimate since it’s more difficult to assess the level of impairment of drowsy drivers than it is to assess drunk drivers. Furthermore, approximately one in 25 adults surveyed reported falling asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days. Many people may not be aware that it’s this common for a sleep-impaired driver to be on the road.

It’s been reported that individuals who get less than seven hours of sleep in a night are at a significantly higher risk for car accidents. The impact of driving while sleep-deprived can be similar to driving while intoxicated.

Moreover, drunk driving may result in slower reflexes, falling asleep at the wheel results in no reflexes at all. Make sure you understand signs that indicate you could be falling asleep at the wheel. If you’re yawning a lot, hitting the rumble strips, missing exits, or having difficulty remembering details, it may mean you’re too tired to be driving. While some people may attempt to “fake it” while intoxicated, you can’t force yourself to focus when you fall asleep at the wheel.

READ: Why Sleep Deprivation is a Silent Killer

How Can You Make Sure You’re Driving Safely?

To begin drinking safely, you must know your limits. Make sure you know your personal limits around alcohol and have another driver at the ready if you’re in a situation where you’ve been drinking. If you do plan to drive, limit yourself to one drink per hour. Drink a lot of water and never drink on an empty stomach if you plan to drive.

To avoid driving while sleep-deprived, get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you find yourself up late due to travel or an emergency, don’t get behind the wheel until you’re absolutely certain your driving won’t be impaired. Arrange other means of transportation if you feel you’re at risk.

If you want to be on the safe side, simply avoid combining sleep deprivation, alcohol, and driving altogether.

The Bottom Line

While most people are aware of the dangers of drunk driving, many underestimate the dangers of drowsy driving. It only takes a few seconds to lose control of a vehicle and cause an accident.

When it comes to driving while sleep-deprived, maximizing sleep quality through good sleep hygiene is the best way to protect yourself on the road. Sleep hygiene may include limiting screen time, avoiding caffeine and alcohol after a certain time, and improving your sleep space.

If you’re looking to optimize your habits around sleep and health, an Arootah Life Coach can help, providing personalized advice and coaching.




Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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