Gridlock Guy: Drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving

A new study by AAA shows that an alarming number of Americans drive while drowsy. Photo courtesy of AAA

A new study by AAA shows that an alarming number of Americans drive while drowsy. Photo courtesy of AAA

My crazy work schedule leads to an equally crazy sleep schedule. Typically, I sleep from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It doesn’t always work that way, but I try to get six hours of sleep during the day. At 8 p.m. I head into work to do my nightly radio show from 10 p.m. to midnight. When I get off the air, I go home and try to squeeze in an hour-long nap before I head back to work before 4 a.m. to start my morning work on TV and radio at 4:30 a.m.

It is a tough schedule and as my friends and co-workers can attest, I am often sleep deprived. I know that this funky work/sleep routine isn’t the healthiest schedule but I didn’t realize how dangerous it could be until I read a newly released study by AAA. According to the study, drowsy, sleep deprived drivers like me, are just as dangerous on the roads as drunk drivers.

I would never think of driving drunk, yet everyday, twice a day, I drive to work while drowsy.

Results from the AAA study showed that “an estimated 6 percent of all crashes in which a vehicle was towed from the scene, 7 percent of crashes in which a person received treatment for injuries sustained in the crash, 13 percent of crashes in which a person was hospitalized and 21 percent of crashes in which a person was killed involved a drowsy driver.”

If you extrapolate these numbers to all crashes reported in the United States, it appears that an average of 328,000 crashes annually, including 109,000 crashes that result in injuries and 6,400 fatal crashes, involve a drowsy driver. Those are jaw-dropping and hopefully eye-opening numbers.

I know I am not alone when it comes to drowsy driving. Parents, people working two or more jobs, third shifters, people that work large amounts of overtime and folks that have trouble falling and staying asleep are all out on our roads every day, driving drowsy.

How much does a lack of sleep impact our driving abilities?

The AAA study indicates that “drivers who usually sleep for less than five hours daily, drivers who have slept for less than seven hours in the past 24 hours, and drivers who have slept for one or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the past 24 hours have significantly elevated crash rates.”

People that sleep only four to five hours, cause the same risk on the roads as someone who has a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of .08 percent.

How many times have you gotten behind the wheel after having less than five hours of sleep? I know I’ve done it hundreds, even thousands of times and that scares me.

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, two percent of Americans sleep less than four hours a day and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that 12 percent of the population sleep less than five hours a day. Those numbers indicate that every time we get on the road, we are surrounded by a ton of sleep deprived, drowsy drivers.

The question now is, how do we reverse this this trend in an ever-busy, always-on-the-go society? I don’t know the answer, but I know that I am going to try and get an extra hour of sleep every day, even with my crazy schedule.