By now everyone knows that driving under the influence is bad. Indeed, nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities involve a drunk driver. More than half (56%) of drivers involved in an injury or fatal car crash were on at least one drug (including alcohol) at the time that impaired their ability to drive. When I took flying lessons, we were warned that OTC cold medicines and flying is not allowed. The FAA has an explicit list of medication types that pilots cannot ingest while flying. An FAA study found the most common drug in the body of pilots involved in fatal aviation accidents was diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl). Benadryl is a first generation, sedating antihistamine. It makes drivers drowsy. Indeed, many over-the-counter sleeping aids contain diphenhydramine as the active ingredient. Drivers are warned that antihistamines like diphenhydramine can impair driving and should be used with caution due to sedation.
You know what else can make you drowsy and impair your ability to drive? Lack of sleep. According to a new survey, teenagers are driving drowsy at high rates. Another study found adults too are driving drowsy (somehow the catchphrase, “friends don’t let friends drive drowsy” doesn’t resonate). Whereas drunk driving is involved in 31% of vehicle fatalities, drowsy driving is responsible for 21%. According to HealthDay:
Drowsy driving kills an estimated 6,400 people a year in the United States alone, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Crash and fatality data are likely underestimated, the sleep foundation said.
About 6 in 10 adult drivers said they had driven a car when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
In their first two years of driving, 1 in 6 teens said they had already driven while drowsy. About 95% of teens consider drowsy driving risky, but most rate drunken, drugged and distracted driving as more dangerous.
Teenagers don’t have the years of experience driving like adults. Yet, they are more than twice as likely as adults to say they have driven so drowsy they could hardly keep their eyes open. Purportedly school and jobs are keeping them up at night. No word on whether access to Netflix on their personal televisions, laptops, iPhones or iPads keeps them up later than advisable. Then there is texting, talking and gaming until the wee hours of the morning. I have literally known parents who took away their kids’ cellphones and shut off the routers at night to prevent their kids from staying up too late.
Most people probably do not realize the risks of driving while drowsy. A family member was involved in a head-on collision with a car driven by a man who had just finished a double shift at work. He fell asleep while driving. Unlike alcohol and drugs, it’s difficult to identify drivers after-the-fact, who were impaired by lack of sleep.