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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released some disturbing results: tired drivers are as unsafe as drunk drivers. The panel looked at driver fatigue and sleepiness and their role in accidents.
According to MSNBC, the problem is not limited to car crashes. More than 320 sleep-related accidents have been the cause of death for over 750 individuals in airplane crashes over the past forty years. The majority of the crash information in the study was based on police reports and self-reports of the driver following the crash. Consuming caffeine and taking naps were two behavioral changes a driver can make for a "quick fix" to a drowsiness problem, although altering overall sleep patterns and lifestyle changes are also suggested as a more permanant solution.
The problem is simple, "sleepiness leads to crashes because it impairs elements of human performance that are critical to safe driving." The report notes the three main impairments that lead to the majority of sleep-related accidents: slower reaction time, reduced vigilance, and deficits in information processing. Whether a combination, or a single factor, tired drivers are as dangerous as inebriated drivers. Like drunk driving, the study also found the vast majority of accidents (the majority of which were serious crashes) occur after midnight. When sleepiness interacts with alcohol, the drowsiness and impairment of the driver increases dramatically.
Although any driver may succumb to sleepiness at the wheel, males between the ages of 16 and 29 have the highest accident percentage, second to shift workers with irregular work hours. Whether tired or drunk, getting behind the wheel when your mind and body are in less than perfect condition is always a bad idea, and always avoidable. The board has issued 138 driver fatigue-related safety recommendations and hopes that a public campaign against the problem will help bring awareness.