The holiday season will soon be upon us starting later this month, and it is usually accompanied by public safety messages regarding the dangers of impaired driving. Those messages specifically focus on alcohol impairment, which most drivers are conscientious enough to avoid. But what about other types of impairment – particularly impairment caused by fatigue?

The beginning of November is national Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, and it is being observed here in Georgia as well. Safety advocates want to send the reminder that drowsy driving is impaired driving, and – in some cases – it can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

Slow reaction times and poor decision-making

You probably know from personal experience how sleep deprivation can hinder your daily functioning. When we’re tired, we are less alert and attentive, our reaction times are slower, we have more difficulty regulating our emotions and we tend to make poor decisions. Most of us would never drive drunk, but have you ever driven while fatigued?

The National Sleep Foundation has some unsettling statistics about drowsy and fatigued driving. According to the NSF:

  • Approximately half of adults in the U.S. consistently drive while drowsy
  • More than 40 percent of drivers confessed that they have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once during their driving careers
  • Approximately 20 percent said they had fallen asleep at the wheel within the past year

How dangerous is drowsy driving? Statistics show that a fatigued driver is three times as likely to be involved in a car crash. And someone who has been awake for 20 consecutive hours is as impaired as a driver with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent (the threshold for being considered legally drunk).

Each of us is responsible for staying alert

Driving drowsy isn’t stigmatized the way that drunk driving is, and rightly so. Being tired behind the wheel isn’t always a conscious decision, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad person. But now that you are aware of the dangers, the responsible choice for yourself and others is to ensure that you remain awake and alert behind the wheel. If you are simply too tired to pay attention, you are too impaired to drive.