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Risk of a Car Crash Increases with Every Hour of Lost Sleep

July 7, 2017

Risk of Car Crashes Increases with Every Hour of Lost Sleep

Drivers who miss between one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep nearly double their risk of a crash, according to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

If you don’t get at least seven hours of sleep, sleep deprivation could cause you to get into an accident. The AAA Foundation found that sleep-deprived drivers had a steadily increasing risk of being involved in a collision in comparison to drivers who slept for the recommended seven hours or more before getting behind the wheel:

  • Six to seven hours of sleep: 1.3 times the crash risk
  • Five to six hours of sleep: 1.9 times the crash risk
  • Four to five hours of sleep: 4.3 times the crash risk
  • Less than four hours of sleep: 11.5 times the crash risk

Sleep deprivation similar to being drunk

Sleep deprivation can seriously impair your ability to drive. In fact, the study found that drivers who get less than five hours of sleep share the same crash risk as someone who is driving over the legal limit for alcohol.

“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”

Risk of Car Crashes Increases with Every Hour of Lost Sleep

One in three adults sleep less than seven hours a day

While 97 per cent of drivers told the AAA Foundation they viewed drowsy driving as a completely unacceptable behaviour, nearly one in three admitted that in the month leading up to the survey, they drove when they were so tired, they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

“Managing a healthy work-life balance can be difficult and far too often we sacrifice our sleep as a result,” said Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA. “Failing to maintain a healthy sleep schedule could mean putting yourself or others on the road at risk.”

No matter how much you open your windows or how loud you turn up your radio, you can’t trick your body into staying awake. In fact, you could easily fall asleep behind the wheel without even realizing it.

And while caffeine can make you more alert, the effects usually wear off quickly if you’re sleep deprived. Coffee or other stimulants cannot substitute sleep, and the AAA urges drivers to prioritize getting plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) into their daily schedules.

Risk of Car Crashes Increases with Every Hour of Lost Sleep

Signs that you are drowsy

When you are drowsy or tired, you are less alert and your reaction time is impacted. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation notes eight signs that you are too tired to drive:

  • You have difficulty keeping your eyes open.
  • Your head keeps tilting forward despite your efforts to keep your eyes on the road.
  • Your mind keeps wandering and you can’t seem to concentrate.
  • You yawn frequently.
  • You can’t remember details about the last few kilometres you have travelled.
  • You are missing traffic lights and signals.
  • Your vehicle drifts into the next lane and you have to jerk it back into your lane.
  • You have drifted off the road and narrowly avoided a crash.

Penalties for drowsy driving

Though there appears to be no specific law in Canada that targets driving while fatigued, you could easily catch the eye of the police if you’re driving while drowsy—even if you’re not involved in a collision. If you’re not able to stay in your lane, or if you run a red light or make an unsafe lane change, you can end up with a ticket.

And while tickets come with a one-time fine, they can also affect your auto insurance premiums for years to come, as they stay on your driving record for at least three years.

Then, of course, if you’re involved a collision, the penalties for driving while fatigued are more serious. You could be charged with dangerous driving, careless driving or even criminal negligence.

Don’t risk it; get the sleep you need to drive safely behind the wheel.