Drowsy drivers can be just as dangerous as drunks

·2 min read

Nov. 8—Studies show sleep deprivation while driving has similarities to driving while under the influence of alcohol.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 697 deaths due to crashes that occurred due to driving while drowsy in 2019.

It's Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, and Tahlequah Police Assistant Chief Steve Young said it's hard to determine the exact number of those types of crashes.

"Our officers can look for clues that drowsiness caused the crash, but these are not always identifiable or conclusive," he said. "But one thing we do see is drivers who had taken sleeping medication the night before, and drive while still under the effects of the medication."

Sleepy drivers can be cited, whether they cause a vehicle crash or are pulled over.

"For the causation such as left of center, following too closely, disobeying a traffic light and [driving under the influence] — if they still show signs of being under the influence of the medication, [they can be arrested]," Young said.

Two studies compared drowsy driving to drunken driving.

"The studies showed that going too long without sleep can impair your driving the same as drinking too much alcohol," said Young.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol impairment is easy to measure using blood alcohol measurement, but sleep deprivation is harder to define.

"Though not identical, drowsy driving and drunk driving bear some similarities and are considered equally dangerous. Both conditions slow reaction times and affect alertness and decision making," the NSF said.

Studies show that after 18 hours of being awake, the effects of reaction time and hand-eye coordination are comparable to having a blood alcohol content of .05 percent.

"After 20 hours of being awake, drowsy drivers are impaired on a level equitable to a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content, which is the current legal limit in most states," NSF said.

Drivers who are sleepy can pull over to a convenience store or place of business that is open 24 hours. Young suggested a well-lit area, such as a designated rest stop.

Young said drivers can also call the police and ask for a ride.

"We would take them home if they live close. If not, we could give them a ride to an open business, such as a convenience store or a motel so they could rest," said Young.

TPD doesn't keep stats on the number of people cited for driving while drowsy, and Young said it's not that common.