Drunk Driving vs. Drowsy Driving: Which is the Biggest Threat?

Drunk Driving vs. Drowsy Driving: Which is the Biggest Threat?

Everyone knows how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. We’ve all seen the public service announcements and news stories that give the sad and terrifying details on the dangers of drunk driving and how it can ruin countless lives. But what about drowsy driving? It can be just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel after too much to drink, yet it rarely gets mentioned in the media. That brings up the question of how being sleepy while driving can be just as deadly as driving drunk.

Drowsiness vs. Drunkenness

While it may not seem like sleep and alcohol have a lot in common when it comes to worries about causing car accidents, it’s been proven that going 24 hours without sleep has the same effect on the ability to function as a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .10, which two full points higher than the legal BAC limit. Both drowsiness and drunkenness cause the slowing of reaction times, affect the ability to process information, and impair memory. Any one of those can result in a car accident – even under the most optimal driving conditions. Put all three of them together, and you’ve got a recipe for certain disaster.

Drunk Driving

How much trouble does drunk driving cause? According to the Center for Disease Control, over 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related car crashes in just the twelve months of 2013. That’s over 30% of the total traffic deaths in the United States for that year. And in the year before, more than a million drivers were arrested for driving while under the influence, and were recorded as having a BAC of .08 or above.

Drowsy Driving

While the numbers relating to drunk driving are scary, the truth of the matter is that driving while drowsy can have just as many frightening effects. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has stated that more than 100,000 car accidents can be directly linked to drowsy driving in the U.S. each and every year, with 1 in 4 drivers admitting to driving while drowsy. Numbers like that make it easy to see why drowsy driving has become such a big concern in the last decade. And while those that have sleep apnea or regularly get less than 6 hours of sleep per night are at the highest risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, any driver can put themselves and others in danger by driving while not at their most alert.

Comparing the Threats

So which is worse – driving while drunk or driving while drowsy? The answer is a simple and scary one. Both drowsy and drunk driving are equally dangerous, and recent studies have shown that there is actually no difference between the two when it comes to the threat to public safety while on the roads. Driving while drunk or drowsy can both more than double your risk for causing an accident. While the possibility for danger is the same with drowsiness and drunkenness, there is no test to determine if someone is too sleepy to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. This makes drowsy driving an even bigger threat in terms of going undetected by authorities and being removed from the road.

Prevention is Key

When it comes to keeping our families safe from either drunk or drowsy drivers, the bottom line is that it all comes down to prevention and common sense. If you know that you’re going to be driving after a night out that involves alcohol, stop after just a few drinks and give yourself some time to clear your head before getting behind the wheel. If you feel yourself getting drowsy while driving, pull over and get some rest or switch drivers. Sleep is a critical part of everyone’s health and well-being, and getting enough of it (that’s at least 8 hours per night for adults, according to health experts) can help prevent life-threatening accidents. Don’t let too much alcohol or not enough sleep put you and others at risk!
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