What happens to your driving skill when you don’t get sleep?

On Behalf of | Sep 23, 2021 | Motor vehicle crashes |

Almost everybody understands that having too much to drink will affect their driving skills. People also realize that they shouldn’t read and respond to text messages or emails while driving because of how dangerous distraction can be.

However, there is another dangerous driving practice that many Americans participate in throughout the week. Drowsy or fatigued driving can be a risky habit, but it doesn’t receive the same consideration as drunk or distracted driving.

People often think that driving while they are tired just means they have to exert a little extra effort to stay awake. They don’t understand that fatigue has a negative impact on their driving performance.

What does exhaustion do to your driving ability?

Those who study the human brain compare the effects of drowsiness or exhaustion to the impact of alcohol. The longer someone has gone without sleep, the more their behavior will seem like someone with an elevated blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

After 16 hours without sleep, your driving will be noticeably worse. After 20 hours without sleep, the effect on your driving skill will be as significant as having a BAC of 0.08%, which means you will drive as poorly as someone who is legally drunk.

Drowsiness increases the chance that you might fall asleep at the wheel, something that a significant number of drivers do every month. Fatigue will also increase your reaction times, make it harder for you to focus and affect your judgment if you do have to react to an animal or a stopped vehicle in the road.

Those impairments can have tragic consequences. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 697 people died in 2019 due to fatigue-related crashes.

Negligent, fatigued drivers can impact the lives of others

Although there isn’t a legal limit to exhaustion at the wheel, drivers should use common sense. People who are so tired that they struggle to keep their eyes open or their thoughts straight should not attempt to drive in that state.

If you or someone you love was in a crash with a driver who seemed to have fallen asleep before the crash or who displayed signs of fatigue afterward, that driver may be responsible for getting behind the wheel when they couldn’t safely drive. Recognizing drowsy driving as a risk factor for car crashes can help you better respond after a wreck.