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Study: drowsy driving just as bad as drunk driving

Drowsy driving is just as bad as drunk driving, according to a recent study. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, concludes that both drunk and sleepy drivers are twice as likely to be involved in vehicle accidents. The study used driver questionnaires, police reports and other data to determine the state of 679 injured drivers at the time of their accidents.

The study confirms well-known information about the dangers of fatigued driving. Operating a vehicle on four hours of sleep produces the approximately the same impairment as if the driver had consumed a six-pack of beer. Despite this danger, poll data showed that one in three drivers were fatigued while driving in the past month. A solid 60 percent admitted to fatigued-driving in the last year, and nearly 40 percent actually fell asleep while driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 100,000 car accidents each year are caused by fatigued or sleepy drivers. Perhaps the biggest motivator to change fatigued drivers’ behavior is the fact that such accidents are often fatal.

Avoiding the risks of fatigued driving is as simple as getting seven or eight hours of sleep per night. Experts emphasize that there is no substitute for sleep. Adopting healthy sleeping patterns means seeking treatment for sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea.

In addition, always be aware of the side effects indicated on medication warning labels, which may include fatigue.

Caffeine helps, but researchers say it provides at best a short-term boost, equal to turning up the music or blasting the air conditioner.

It is important to recognize symptoms of fatigue, like blurry vision and repeated yawning. Avoid driving if the symptoms are obvious. If necessary, pull over and take a brief nap. Take frequent breaks, and avoid driving in the early morning hours, when the urge to sleep is strongest.

In the end, fatigued driving is just as avoidable as drunk driving. Living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding risky situations can minimize the risk of an accident.

Source: Reuters, “Sleepy, Drunken Drivers Equally Dangerous: Study,” Andrew M. Seaman, May 30, 2012

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