Drowsy driving dangers: Study shows getting behind the wheel without enough sleep can be deadly

Posted at 10:56 AM, Feb 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-24 11:00:43-05

A new study is shedding light on the dangers of driving while sleep-deprived, and finds it can be even more dangerous than driving drunk.

Drowsy driving is one of the "four D's" of impaired driving -- along with drunk, drugged and distracted driving.

A new report by AAA says drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a day are twice as likely to crash as those who get enough sleep. Those who sleep just four to five hours are at more than quadruple the risk of crashing.

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. However, these numbers are underestimated; up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers."

Dr. Kingman Strohl is a sleep specialist at University Hospitals. According to Strohl, your level of impairment behind the wheel when you have been awake for 17 to 23 hours is the same as being legally drunk.

“The problems that sleepiness give you is divided attention,” Strohl said. “That is thinking of two things at once and reacting to them. Reaction time. And so being unreactive for a couple seconds at 60 miles an hour gives you a football field of accident opportunity.”

Besides those risks, poor sleep habits can lead to health problems like diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

How much sleep do you need?

Dr. Strohl says it varies from person-to-person.

“The rule of thumb is that you get enough sleep so you're not sleepy during the day. Your mileage may vary, but somewhere north of six hours, somewhere south of nine hours.”

According to the CDC, about 35 percent of drivers get less than seven hours of sleep each day.  

MORE: Drowsy driving information from the CDC