Sleep-deprived driving is the operation of a motor vehicle while being cognitively impaired by a lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of motor vehicle accidents, and it can impair the human brain as much as alcohol can. According to a 1998 survey, 23% of adults have fallen asleep while driving. According to the United States Department of Transportation, male drivers admit to have fallen asleep while driving twice as much as female drivers.
In the United States, 250,000 drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and in a national poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 54% of adult drivers said they had driven while drowsy during the past year with 28% saying they had actually fallen asleep while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes, resulting in 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually.
- 1 The effects of sleep deprivation on driving performance
- 2 The effects of sleep deprivation compared to the effects of alcohol
- 3 Accidents
- 4 Sleep-deprived driving in commercial transportation and in the military
- 5 Physician reporting
- 6 Government response to sleep-deprived driving
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The effects of sleep deprivation on driving performance
Sleep deprivation has been proven to affect driving ability in three areas:
- It impairs coordination.
- It causes longer reaction times.
- It impairs judgment.
The effects of sleep deprivation compared to the effects of alcohol
Numerous studies have found that sleep deprivation can affect driving as much as (and sometimes more than) alcohol. British researchers have found that driving after 17 to 18 hours of being awake is as harmful as driving with a blood alcohol level of .05%, the legal limit in many European countries. The MythBusters TV show dedicated a special episode "Tipsy vs. Tired" to explore these findings and has confirmed that sleep deprivation can be more dangerous than driving under the influence of a minor amount of alcohol.
It has been estimated that between 16% and 60% of all accidents have sleep deprivation as a cause. Between 1989 and 1993, it has been estimated that an average of 1,544 people were killed annually in the US as a result of sleep-deprived driving. Accidents related to sleep deprivation are most likely to happen in the early to midafternoon, and in the very early morning hours. Sleep deprivation was blamed a major cause of the Selby rail crash in which 10 people died and 82 were injured.
Sleep-deprived driving in commercial transportation and in the military
Sleep-deprived driving is a major problem in commercial transportation and in the military. 20% of commercial pilots and 18% of train operators have admitted to making a serious error due to fatigue.  Commercial truck drivers are especially susceptible to drowsy driving. A recent study of 80 long-haul truck drivers in the United States and Canada found that drivers averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that drowsy driving was likely the cause of more than half of crashes leading to a truck driver’s death. For each truck driver fatality, another three to four people are killed.  The US military estimates that approximately 9% of crashes resulting in death or serious injury during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield were caused by sleep-deprived driving.
Six US states require physicians to report patients who drive while impaired, including those who may be chronically sleep-deprived. Another twenty-five US states permit physicians to violate doctor-patient confidentiality to report sleep-deprived drivers or those with sleeping disorders likely to impair driving, if they so choose. The American Medical Association endorsed physician reporting in 1999, but deferred to the states on whether such notification should be mandatory or permissive. An authority on professional confidentiality, Jacob Appel of New York University, has written that physician reporting is a double-edged sword, because it may deter some patients from seeking care. According to Appel, "Reporting may remove some dangerous drivers from the roads, but if in doing so it actually creates other dangerous drivers, by scaring them away from treatment, then society has sacrificed confidentiality for no tangible return in lives saved."
Government response to sleep-deprived driving
Governments had attempted to reduce sleep-deprived driving through education messages and by ingraining roads with dents, known as rumble strips in the US, which cause a noise when drivers wander out of their lane. The Government of Western Australia recently introduced a "Driver Reviver" program where drivers can receive free coffee to help them stay awake.
In the United Kingdom, a motor vehicle driver can be convicted of causing death by dangerous driving if the prosecution can prove that the driver of that vehicle knew that he or she had been sleep deprived, and killed another person as a result of driving while sleep deprived.
- Sleep deprivation
- Sleep apnea
- To ensure that any new or revised requirement providing for the screening, testing, or treatment of individuals operating commercial motor vehicles for sleep disorders is adopted pursuant to a rulemaking proceeding (H.R. 3095; 113th Congress)
- "1 in 24 report driving while drowsy".
- Peters, Robert D. "Effects of Partial and Total Sleep Deprivation on Driving Performance", US Department of Transportation, February 1999.
- Sleepdex. www.sleepdex.org/drowsy-driving.htm: "Drowsy Driving".
- Shift Work Disorder
- CNN. "Sleep deprivation as bad as alcohol impairment, study suggests", CNN, September 20, 2000.
- NASD. "Sleep Deprivation: Causes and Consequences", Nebraska Rural Health and Safety Coalition.
- Wininger Law. "The Dangers of Drowsy Driving"
- National Sleep Foundation. "White Paper - Drowsy Driving"
- Appel, Jacob. Must Physicians Report Impaired Driving? Rethinking a Duty on a Collision Course with Itself 20 (2). Journal of Clinical Ethics.