Did you know that driving when you are tired is as dangerous as driving drunk? According to a national study conducted by the AAA Foundation, over 20 percent of fatal vehicle accidents occur at the hands of a sleepy driver.
The study also concluded that driving with only four to five hours of sleep is like driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of someone who is considered legally drunk.
Crash Risk Statistics
The legal BAC limit for driving is .08, but the AAA study showed that driving after only four hours of sleep carries the same crash risk as driving with a BAC of .12 - .15. Driving with less than four hours of sleep carries an 11.5 percent higher risk of being involved in a crash, and driving after four to five hours of sleep carries a 4.3 percent higher risk.
These statistics are conservative at best. The AAA study was unable to include data for crashes that happened during the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., which is when most crashes occur. Furthermore, 97 percent of drivers surveyed said it was not acceptable to drive while sleepy yet one-third of them admitted they had done so in the past month.
Employment-Related Sleep Deprivation
Even small changes to a sleep schedule can increase your risk of crashing due to sleep deprivation. Police officers, nurses, truck drivers and part-time workers all encounter shift changes and uneven scheduling that leads to poor sleep habits. Although the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has reported that people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, we live in a culture where sleep deprivation is often highly regarded and/or ignored in the workplace.
Understaffed law enforcement facilities and hospitals open the door to extra-long work shifts and scheduling changes that cause sleep deprivation among employees. Long-haul truckers are subtly encouraged to drive for longer periods than is safe in order to receive bonuses for meeting unrealistic deadlines. Employees who typically stock product overnight are required to suddenly change their shift due to late or early shipment arrival. When companies who pay a premium for second- and third-shift work experience profit loss, they rearrange shifts to the employees' detriment in order to save money. When they're back in the black, they rearrange shifts again.
These and other changes cause sleep-deprivation, which in turn creates sleepy, dangerous drivers. SHRM suggests measures employers should be taking to reduce sleep-deprivation among employees including healthy sleep education, maintaining work schedules, eliminating 12-hour shifts, and organizing ways to manage the risk of fatigue. One major insurance company offers webinars on sleep hygiene for its employees, and a national trucking company audits employees' sleep habits in conjunction with tests for sleep apnea.
Sleepy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving and increasing profit at the risk of employee sleep-deprivation is unacceptable. Reducing the risk of fatal crashes isn't only the responsibility of employees; it is also incumbent upon employers to take measures that eliminate the likelihood of sleep deprivation.