Does your mother ever worry about you being on the road after you’ve engorged yourself on an elaborate Thanksgiving feast? How about after the Times Square Ball Drop? Most people perceive driving during the months of November and December as more dangerous than at other times of year, as there are many more car accidents. The heightened awareness of intoxicated drivers peaks during the holiday season as Thanksgiving marks the onset of a temporary era of increased alcohol consumption, and for good reason.

The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 40% of traffic deaths that occur the week between Christmas and New Year’s are due to drunk driving. Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend alone, approximately 400 drunk driving fatalities take place. It is scary to think that as you are out shopping for Christmas gifts or preparing for a special meal that you may be surrounded by drunk drivers.

It’s not just in your head; driving around this time of year is more hazardous than usual, and caution is advised. These are the main holidays during which police departments throughout the country pool together extra resources to set up DUI checkpoints. Yet, can you really tell the difference between a driver who is impaired because of alcohol or is just sleep deprived?

Alarming Drowsy Driving Statisticsdrowsy-driver

The National Sleep Foundation’s “Sleep in America” survey reveals that driving while drowsy is just as dangerous as driving drunk. They found that over a third of all drivers (about 103 million people) have reportedly fallen asleep at the wheel. 60% of drivers reported driving while feeling drowsy in the past year. About 11 million drivers admitted they had had some close calls or an actual accident because they were too tired to drive.

Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsiness behind the wheel contributes to approximately 100,000 accidents a year. Over 1500 deaths occur annually, with approximately 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in damages. The NHTSA admits these numbers are probably significantly higher, as it is almost impossible to attribute an accident to drowsy driving alone. One thing is for sure, drowsy driving is just as damaging as drunk driving. Driving while you are sleepy slows reaction time, decreases awareness, and impairs judgment.

Who is most at risk?

While many of us get sleepy after a heavy meal, statistically teens and adults under 25 are at the greatest risk of finding themselves in a serious car accident because they drove drowsily. More men than women are at risk. Also, people who regularly do not get enough sleep, work in shifts, or have been awake for over 18 hours are particularly dangerous.

In one study conducted in Australia, being awake for longer than 18 hours caused significant impairment on the road, the equivalent of having a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.05. After 24 hours awake, you drive about as well as one with a BAC of 0.10, well over the legal limit.

Are you too tired to drive?

The majority of accidents due to drowsy driving occur when a drowsy driver is alone. If you feel that you are having trouble focusing and are blinking frequently and/ or yawning excessively, you should let someone else take you home. If you face a particularly long drive on your own, it’s safest to spend the night along the way or even rest for 20 minutes. A 15-20 minute nap is the optimum time to rest and feel refreshed. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends stopping every 100 miles or about every 2 hours for a short break.

Identifying drowsy drivers

Much like drunk drivers, drowsy drivers drift from their lanes, drive too closely behind other cars, and weave within their own lanes. Drowsy drivers tend to feel restless and irritable, as they are often impatient to arrive at their destination. In this sense they can often drive too fast, unlike drunk drivers who tend to drive slowly because they believe it will draw less suspicion.

If you drive tired, sleepiness can hit at any moment. Long road trips, boring highways, and driving at night are huge risk factors for falling asleep behind the wheel. Your body needs to sleep when it is sleep deprived, which is why you can’t fight it past a certain point. A higher ratio of drowsy driving accidents turn deadly because the driver, unaware of what is occurring, fails to break or react to his surroundings. If you’ve been injured in such an accident, or there has been a wrongful death, attorney Richard Rizk of RizkLaw can help you through it. Call (503) 245-5677 for a free legal consultation.