Daytona Beach accident puts spotlight on drowsy driving dangers

Nearly all drivers in Florida understand how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Most also know the dangers of texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving. However, few people realize that it is just as dangerous to drive a vehicle when you are feeling sleepy.

A recent accident in Daytona Beach shows just how risky drowsy driving can be. In that crash, a 19-year-old college student was killed when the car he was riding in crashed into a tree. Authorities say the driver of the vehicle fell asleep after being forced to stay awake as part of a fraternity hazing ordeal.

The risks of drowsy driving

While fraternity hazing might seem like an extreme example, the truth is that drowsy driving is a widespread problem. How many of us regularly drive to work or school in the morning after staying up too late the night before? Or get in the car to go home from a late movie even though we were nodding off during the show?

In reality, drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. In fact, according to data published by the National Sleep Foundation, after staying awake for 18 hours, drivers have a similar level of cognitive impairment as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05. After 24 hours of being awake, a driver is just as impaired as someone with a 0.10 BAC.

Many people feel a need to "tough it out" when it comes to being tired or drowsy. Because of this, the National Sleep Foundation has found that 60 percent of Americans have gotten behind the wheel of a car even though they felt very drowsy. Another 37 percent have admitted to actually falling asleep behind the wheel. (This statistic is actually probably much higher, though, since a lot of people fall asleep for just a few seconds without realizing they have nodded off.)

All drivers have a duty to stay off the road when they are at risk of falling asleep or causing an accident. If you notice yourself experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should find a safe place to stop and rest as soon as possible:

  • Trouble focusing or having disconnected thoughts
  • Frequent blinking or difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Feeling very tired, restless or irritable
  • Frequent yawning
  • An inability to remember the last few miles of driving
  • Missing exits or turns
  • Drifting out of your lane or hitting rumble strips

When it comes to preventing car accidents, safety is everyone's responsibility. By staying off the road when you are drowsy, you can help protect yourself and others on the road from accidental injury or death.