It’s happened to pretty much everyone. You are driving on the highway, it’s dark, the road ahead is long and the passing of the lines is hypnotic. Drowsiness sets in. Your lids, heavy, begin to close. Then comes the fear: Can you stay awake? Should you pull over to nap? Can you make it home before the urge to sleep is too powerful?
Every year, just over 100 million people fall asleep at the wheel, if only for a moment. This statistic was reported in 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation’s, called Sleep in America. The poll reported that around 168 million Americans say they drive drowsy at least once a year, and about 11 million Americans say sleeping at the wheel caused a car accident or very nearly caused one.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that falling asleep at the wheel accounts for about 100,000 reported car accidents in the U.S. every year. This translates to a little over 1,500 deaths and 70,000 injuries. However, the numbers could be even higher — there is no easy way to determine whether or not a driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Of the main issues related to falling asleep at the wheel is that the driver is unsure of how to handle the problem. Often, a driver’s reaction exacerbates the situation. The National Sleep Foundation’s poll found that:
42% of the people who are falling asleep at the wheel begin to feel stressed.
32% of people who are falling asleep at the wheel become impatient with themselves and the drive.
12% of people who are falling asleep at the wheel drive faster so they may reach their destination before sleep takes them.
All of these reactions to falling asleep at the wheel can make the situation even more dangerous. Stress, impatience, and increased speed can affect a drowsy driver’s response time or cause him or her to make hasty or careless decisions.
Cases of falling asleep at the wheel have meant prison time for drivers who have harmed others in car accidents. Someone who falls asleep at the wheel is driving negligently.