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Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving

It is no secret that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, but a recent article from MedicineNet reveals just how dangerous the act is — and how prevalent. Though New Jersey does not outlaw fatigued driving as it does drunk driving, the findings suggest that maybe the state should.

According to MedicineNet, those who receive less than seven hours of sleep at night are not only more likely to be involved in a car accident but also, are more likely to cause it. That risk only increases for every hour less than seven hours of sleep a person gets. For instance, a driver who gets between four and six hours of sleep each night is 2.9 times more likely to cause a car crash than those who received the standard seven to nine hours of shut eye. A person who sleeps for less than four hours in a 24-hour period is 15 times more likely to cause an accident. For comparison's sake, researchers noted that drowsy drivers had about the same odds of crashing as drivers with a blood alcohol concentration 1.5 times the legal limit.

The findings reveal that seven percent of all U.S. car crashes and 16 percent of all fatal collisions involve drowsy drivers. Researchers attribute the high crash rates to the lack of judgement and the increased risk for making small mistakes, such as missing a gap in traffic.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides some tips for driving alert. For one, getting adequate sleep, preferably between seven and nine hours. Drivers should avoid drinking alcohol before driving, even if they plan to give themselves time to sober up. Alcohol tends to exacerbate sleepiness. If someone takes prescription medications, he or she should check the labels to make sure they do not induce drowsiness.

If one must drive on less than seven hours of sleep, the NHTSA suggests avoiding driving during the peak sleepiness hours of midnight to 6 a.m. Drivers should also learn the signs of drowsiness, such as hitting rumble strips or missing exits, and pull over if they notice any.

There are short term interventions to drowsy driving. For instance, drinking coffee or energy drinks, or taking short, 20-minute naps in a safe place, can increase alertness for short periods of time.  

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