Published On: Fri, Dec 30th, 2016

Risky Business: Driving on Little Sleep Is as Dangerous as Drunk Driving

photo/ sandid via pixabay

Scientists have known for years that sleep deprivation progressively affects the same areas of the brain that drinking alcohol does. A recent study found that if you get less than the recommended minimum 7 hours of sleep, you greatly increase your risk of causing a car accident.

Driving while tired is an enormous public health concern with serious consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of U.S. drivers get less than 7 hours of sleep per night.

The Risks of Driving While Tired

The study, which was done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, reviewed thousands of crashes that resulted in injuries, and found that for every additional hour of sleep less than the recommended 7 hours, the chances of an accident increase.

According to the study, crashes are:

  • 1.3 times more likely than normal for drivers who get 6-7 hours of sleep
  • 1.9 times more likely for drivers who get 5-6 hours of sleep
  • 4.3 times more likely for drivers who get 4-5 hours of sleep
  • 11.5 times more likely for drivers who get less than 4 hours of sleep

For those who get 2-3 hours less sleep than the recommended already have the same rate of accidents as those who are driving with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit.

The study may even understate the effect of sleep deprivation on driving, since researchers only had data for accidents from 6 a.m. until midnight, and midnight to 6 a.m. is when drivers are likely the most tired.

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

You may be sleep deprived if you:

  • Wander into another lane while driving.
  • Have brief moments that you don’t remember what you were doing. This is a sign that you could be having microsleeps, where you fall asleep for a few seconds at a time..

These signs of fatigue are a good indication that you should not be driving. You can trade drivers if another driver is in the car, or pull over to the side of the road and rest until you can rest enough to get home safely. Of course, the best thing to do would be to recognize before driving that you are too tired to drive safely.

What Can Companies Do to Help?


  • Implement travel policies that take employees’ sleep needs into account. This includes allowing adequate time to recover after red-eye flights, not allowing them to drive right after red-eyes.
  • Implement work policies that give employees adequate time to rest.

What Can You Do If You Are Driving Sleep-Deprived?

AAA recommends that you should get 7 hours of sleep if you are planning to drive the next day. In addition to getting plenty of sleep, AAA recommends drivers on longer trips schedule a break every two hours or 100 miles, avoid heavy food, travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving and avoid medications that cause drowsiness.

If you are already on the road when you notice you are too tired to drive safely, either pull over and rest for as long as you need to, or, if not far from your home or destination, go straight there and do not drive again until fully rested.

According to Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation of Traffic safety, “You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel.”

Author: Jacob Maslow

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