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By Allison Kusick, West Branch sophomore
WEST BRANCH - Believe it or not, lack of sleep is proven to have the same results on the brain as alcohol consumption. Consequently, drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 car crashes in the U.S. resulting in 1,550 deaths of the 32,800 car crash deaths a year.
This seldom mentioned problem is something more people need to understand. It has been found people who have been awake for 20 hours without sleep have the same responses behind the wheel as a person with the blood alcohol level 0.05.
“That’s really scary to think that someone who’s sleepy can react the same as someone who is drunk driving," West Branch sophomore Linzee Espensen said. "Somebody’s perception could definitely be inhibited by that. That could cause a lot of problems and it’s really scary to think about.”
Additionally, a study by Harvard Medical School and the National Sleep Foundation found nearly 25,000 Americans nod off at the wheel every day. They also found 54 percent of people have driven while drowsy and 28 percent of those people admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.
“Actually (drowsy driving) would be very similar to drunk driving," said Rae Hosier, a first responder for the West Branch Fire Department. "You wouldn’t be alert, your reflexes would be slower than normal, it could cause vision issues, your total concentration is just not there, and your attention span is gone.”
A study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found nearly 20 percent of all car crashes are caused by sleepy drivers. The researchers concluded sleepy drivers are about five percent more likely to cause an accident than a well-rested person. When put behind the wheel of a driving simulator, people who were sleep deprived had an equal, if not higher, chance of crashing than an intoxicated person.
“It wouldn’t be surprising if a crash was caused by sleepy drivers," Hosier said. "We don’t always know the exact reason why we’re going (to a crash site) or why someone has crashed, so it definitely could have happened.”
Many people succumb to sleepy driving because of their work schedules or other obligations. Factors such as long shifts, late events, rehearsals and practices all contribute to drowsy driving.
“A lot of people try to work long shifts and try to drive home or maybe somebody that has been at the hospital with somebody and has been there for a long time (tries) to drive home," Hosier said "Find someone else that could drive for you or maybe just rest for a while before continuing on.”
According to WebMD, the amount of sleep someone needs varies from person to person. On average, adults need seven to eight hours a day and teenagers need about nine hours. Experts have found if you ever feel sleepy during the day, even during boring activities, you could use a couple more hours of sleep at night.
Drowsy driving is just as bad as drunk driving, if not worse. Being sleepy at the wheel not only puts you at risk, but all of the other drivers and passengers around you.
“You could swerve off the road because when you’re drowsy, your reflexes are almost gone and so you lose control of what you’re doing," West Branch sophomore Jamie Flanegan said. "Your foot could go down farther on the gas pedal because you feel heavy and you could start speeding up. Your hands tend to droop down and your hands could fall off of the steering wheel and before you know it you don’t have control of anything and you could crash.”