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This common problem is just as dangerous as drunk driving

When many people think of fatal accidents, they often think of distracted drivers on their phones or impaired drivers. Drunk driving doubles the chance of having a car accident - and surprisingly, so does drowsy driving.

An Australian study found that a driver who's been awake for 18 hours has the equivalent of a .05 BAC, and a .10 BAC if they haven't slept for 24 hours. The Archives of Internal Medicine produced a study that showed drunk drivers and fatigued drivers are equally as likely to be in an accident, which is twice as likely as a sober, awake driver.

The dangerous effects of drowsy driving

When a driver doesn't sleep enough or is living with an untreated sleep disorder, they can fall asleep at the wheel. A study found that about 1 in 25 drivers 18 years of age and older reported that they had fallen asleep while driving in the past month. But it's not just falling asleep at the wheel that's the danger: being drowsy diminishes your attention span, makes your reaction time significantly longer and affects your ability to make smart and safe decisions.

Drowsy driving makes up between 10 and 30 percent of auto accidents - the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that it caused 1,550 fatalities, injured 71,000 people and costs a total of $12.5 billion.

Not only can a drowsy driver end up in jail for hurting another person in an accident, but a victim's family can also be awarded multi-million dollar settlement for the drowsy driver's deadly mistake.

Common risk factors

About 70 percent of Americans have a sleep disorder, which makes them more likely to be drowsy during waking hours behind the wheel - drivers with sleep apnea that isn't properly treated can make them more likely to nod off while driving. Other people who work night or long shifts, like commercial drivers, are also more likely to lack restful sleep. People between the ages of 18 and 29 are the most likely to drive without adequate sleep, and most at risk are young males.

Preventing a deadly behavior

What can you do to prevent a drowsy driving accident? The CDC offers several tips, including:

  • Adults need at least 7 hours of restful sleep a night to not feel overly tired, and teens need at least 8.
  • Don't drink alcohol or take medicines that make you drowsy before you need to drive - always check medication labels.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have sleep issues, like snoring or serious fatigue during waking hours.
  • Find and stick to a sleep schedule that helps keep you rested and alert during the day.

Warning signs that a person is too tired to drive include yawning and blinking often, inability to remember parts of the trip, missing signs and exits, inability to stay in their lane and crossing over a rumble strip on the side of the road.

If you ever feel like you're too tired to keep driving, pull over as soon as you can to take a nap or change drivers.

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