Reduced visibility combined with sleep deprivation make driving at night dangerous
DID YOU KNOW…
- In 2019, 58% of young adult fatal crashes occurred between 6 pm – 6 am (1).
- Rural roadways can be especially dangerous at night due to higher numbers of unlit roadways. In 2019, 45% of fatal traffic crashes occurred on rural roads, 45% (7,305) of those occurred at night (10).
- A majority of speeding-related fatalities occurred at night in Urban areas (57%) (10).
The impact of sleep habits on driving and other areas:
- Sleepiness and irregular sleep schedules have many unintended consequences, one of which is to negatively impact learning, memory, and performance (3).
- Men are more likely to fall asleep while driving than women (3).
- A study found that individuals who have slept less than 2 hours in the prior 24 hours are too sleep deprived to get behind the wheel of a vehicle (5).
- A survey found that young drivers report being “reluctant to miss out” and have an “always-on lifestyle” that can contribute to drowsy driving as they are getting less than six hours of sleep each night (6).
- 70% of participants surveyed admitted to driving tired
- 50% reported actually falling asleep or nearly falling asleep at the wheel citing:
- A busy schedule: 43%
- Staying up late to do homework: 32%
- Staying up late for social activities: 24%
- Working late hours during the week: 20%
- Being tired or hung over from drinking/partying the night before: 10%
Drowsy vs. Impaired:
- The dangerous combination of sleep loss and alcohol could impair driving performance even in students who are not legally intoxicated (3).
- Drowsy driving and impaired driving have similar effects (2,4). Both cause:
- Problems with information processing and short-term memory
- Increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors
- Decreased performance, vigilance, and motivation
- Impaired reaction time, judgment, and vision
Identifying Drowsy Driving:
- Here are some signs of being tired and it’s time to pull over (7).
Preventing Drowsy Driving:
- Before you drive, consider whether you are (7):
- Sleep-deprived or fatigues (6 hrs of sleep or less triples your risk)
- Suffering from sleep loss (insomnia) or poor quality sleep
- Driving long distances without proper rest breaks
- Driving through the night or when you would normally be asleep
- Studying a lot or attending more activities than usual, which may be decreasing your sleep time
- Drinking even small amounts of alcohol
- Driving alone or on a long, rural dark or boring road
- Lifestyle habits and good planning can help prevent drowsy driving (7):
- Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road.
- Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks.
- It’s better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
- Use the buddy system. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue
- Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers or going for a jog
- Take a nap. Find a safe place to take a 15-20 minute nap if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that may cause drowsiness as a side-effect
- Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
The problem of visibility at night:
- The average person’s field of vision is smaller without the aid of light, and glare from oncoming headlights can further limit the ability to see clearly and avoid hazards (8).
- High Intensity lights are becoming more common. These lights are brighter to on-coming traffic and require your eyes to adjust faster (8).
- It is more difficult to judge other vehicle’s speeds and distances at night.
- Dusk is the most dangerous time since your eyes are constantly having to adjust to more darkness (9).
What to do about poor visibility:
- Keep distractions to a minimum to keep your eyes and attention on the road.
- Reduce your speed and increase your following distances. Don’t overdrive your headlights. You should be able to stop inside the illuminated area. If you can’t, you are creating a blind crash area in front of your vehicle (11).
- Keep your headlights and windshield clean. A thin film of debris on your headlights can reduce your visibility significantly (11).
- Avoid the glare of oncoming vehicles by watching the right edge of the road and using it as a steering guide (11).
- IIHS, Fatality Facts 2019, Teenagers, Available at: https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/teenagers#when-teenagers-died
- Jackson ML, Croft RJ, Kennedy GA, Owens K, Howard ME. Cognitive components of simulated driving performance: sleep loss effects and predictors. Accid AnalPrev.2012;50:438.
- Hershner, and Chervin R.D. Causes and Consequences of Sleepiness Among College Students. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2014.
- National Sleep Foundation
- National Sleep Foundation:https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/expert-consensus-panel-concludes-missing-night-sleep-renders-drivers-unfit
- Liberty Mutual & SADD:https://www.libertymutualgroup.com/about-lm/news/news-release-archive/articles/new-study-finds-teens-fear-of-missing-out-is-proving-to-be-dangerous
- Texas A&M Transportation Institute
- National Safety Council
- National Highway Traffic Safety, Rural/Urban Comparison of Traffic Fatalities, Traffic Safety Facts, 2017 data, Available at: ) https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812957
- AAA Foundation
Updated August 2021