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Are sleep-deprived drivers as dangerous as drunk drivers?

We all know that drivers who've consumed a certain amount of alcohol lose the ability to focus and make good decisions. Not braking soon enough, drifting or swerving out of lanes, running red lights and other poor reactions are common. Alcohol-impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of accidents every year, many of them resulting in fatalities.

But a study that was just released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that drivers who miss out on sleep have crash rates that are just as elevated as those for alcohol-impaired drivers. 

By the numbers: who's more at risk of crashing?

It's normal to experience an occasional yawn when you're driving to work in the morning or dropping the kids off at school. But the statistics surrounding sleepy driving may be enough to make you sit up straight-and try harder to get your nightly dose of slumber. The study results indicate that the greatest risk for crashing belongs to drivers who:

  • Have slept less than seven hours in the last 24 hours, whether it's normal for them or not
  • Get less than five hours of sleep
  • Get less sleep than in a typical night for them, by one hour or more 

What are some of the signs of sleep deprivation?

Almost everyone is familiar with how it feels to not get enough sleep, but what's the difference between feeling slightly groggy before a cup of coffee-and more serious sleep deprivation? They're not necessarily any different, which is why everyone should be aware of the symptoms. You may be experiencing these while driving without being aware.

  • Lack of ability to focus
  • Drifting attention span or long lapses in attention
  • Slow reaction time to external events
  • Incorrect reactions to situations

So is it just being sleepy or being severely impaired?

If you drive after only four to five hours of sleep, your crash risk is estimated to be same as the crash risk associated with driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08. If you drive after less than four hours of sleep, the crash risk is comparable to that of a BAC of 0.12-0.15.

There's no doubt that sleep deprivation plays a role in some car accidents. While you can ensure you're getting plenty of sleep, you can't know what other drivers are doing. If you've been injured in an accident, it's a good idea to talk to an experienced lawyer about your options. 

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