Can drowsy driving be compared to drunk driving?

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(WHTM) — When driving behind the wheel of a car, sometimes you can get pretty relaxed — to the point of closing your eyes. This is especially true if you haven’t gotten enough sleep.

Driving without sleep is dangerous, but does it compare to driving drunk?

In 2017, drowsy driving was the reason behind at least 91,000 car crashes, 50,000 injuries and 795 deaths, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports. That’s compared with 9,949 fatal alcohol-related crashes during the same time.

While not exactly the same, drowsy driving and drunk driving have similarities, including a decrease in reaction time, according to

After being awake for 18 hours, reaction time, multi-tasking and hand-eye coordination are comparable to someone who has a blood alcohol content of .05%, which increases to .08% after being awake for 20 hours.

After 24 hours of sleeplessness, impairment jumps to being comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.1%. The legal limit in most states is .08%.

According to the Sleep Foundation report, drowsy driving is most likely to happen overnight –between midnight and 6 a.m. It can also be common to see drowsy drivers during the late afternoon hours.

People who are at the highest risk for driving while drowsy are young drivers, professional drivers, shift workers and those who sleep for less than six hours daily or suffer from sleep apnea.

The Sleep Foundation suggests being aware of the warning signs:

  • Heavy eyelids or frequent blinking
  • Yawning
  • Trouble focusing
  • Forgetting the last few miles
  • Drifting between lanes
  • Driving over rumble strips
  • Head-drooping
  • Tailgating
  • Missed signs or exits
  • Restlessness, irritability and aggressiveness

Short-term fixes such as caffeine, open windows or loud music can lead to microsleep, which is when your brain flips rapidly between a few seconds of sleep and wakefulness.

If you are tired while driving, especially while driving long distances, you should take frequent breaks or even pull over in a safe place and take a 20-minute power nap.

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