Thanks to decades of effort by various groups, especially MADD, we all know that drinking and driving are a dangerous combination. A new study released by the AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety finds that missing even a few hours of sleep can double the risk of getting into an accident while behind the wheel. Missing three hours of sleep quadruples the risk.
The Center for Disease Control reports that alcohol is involved in 33% of all highway deaths, but what may surprise many people is that the CDC also lists drowsiness as a factor in 20% of highway fatalities. That latter figure is roughly equal to the danger from distracted driving, which includes texting while driving. The CDC claims 35% of adults get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep every night.
“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”
Most of the drivers surveyed by AAA say they know that driving while drowsy is dangerous. In fact, 97 percent of drivers said sleepiness is a hazard on the road. But like most risky driving behaviors, a lot of drivers do it anyway. One in three admitted to drowsy driving at least once in the past month.
If you find your eyelids dropping, or you suddenly can’t remember the last few miles, you’re probably too tired to drive. AAA recommends drivers take a break every 100 miles and suggests staying off the road during your routine sleeping hours. They also say drivers should stay away from heavy foods and medications that cause drowsiness. If you’re going on a long trip, bring a friend along and take shifts driving. If you feel tired, the best thing you can do is pull over and find an alternative way to get home or take a nap.
We live in a world where high tech solutions to common problems abound. Cameras and computers can park our cars for us and initiate emergency braking before we even realize a dangerous situation is about to happen. Why has no one developed a simple camera system that monitors a driver’s eyelids for signs of sleepy behavior? This sounds like something the average middle schooler could do for the annual science fair. Equipment that sends vibrations through the steering wheel and/or accelerator is widely available. Devising a system to sound the horn to awaken a dozing driver should be easy for any engineer with an extra hour of time available.
Ultimately, autonomous driving systems will protect us all from the most dangerous part of every car — the nut behind the wheel. Elon Musk and his minions have devised some of the most advanced self driving systems in human history. It is frankly astonishing that they have not designed a system that can detect drunk or drowsy driving and take appropriate measures to protect drivers and members of the general public.