An under appreciated driving hazard is the lack of sleep. In fact, many people are cavalier about driving while fatigued. Although driving under the influence of alcohol carries much social stigma, the same can’t be said of driving when tired. Yet both forms of impairment are equally dangerous and cause too many fatalities on our roads and highways.

The Dangerous State of Micro-Sleep

Is it possible to force yourself to stay awake by continually drinking coffee, playing loud music, and using truck driver tricks such as chewing gum? While you may succeed at sitting in an upright position and doing some amount of driving this way, parts of your brain will start taking short naps lasting a few seconds. Scientists call this micro-sleep. When this happens, your brain as a whole doesn’t momentarily fall asleep, just some of its parts that flicker on and off while the rest of the brain appears to be awake. This may cause you to make mistakes or do absent-minded things.

Micro-sleep may also cause you to momentarily lose consciousness while your eyes are still open and your hands are steadily holding the steering wheel. This may happen for two seconds at a time, or even as long as 30 seconds. You will be completely unaware of the micro-sleep event as it occurs. The only clue you will have is after you snap out of it: you won’t have any recollection of what occurred during those missing seconds. One moment, the traffic pattern looks a certain way, and the next, it will have completely changed.

During these moments of unconsciousness, a turn in the road or a sudden traffic slow down can result in a catastrophic crash. In addition, your decision-making ability remains momentarily impaired upon waking up from micro-sleep. If parts of your brain are periodically going in and out of micro-sleep, your decision-making ability (such as whether you should brake for a construction area ahead) will be continuously impaired.

You can try as hard as you can, but it’s impossible to force yourself to stay in a true state of wakefulness when you should be fast asleep. Parts of your brain will betray your efforts and go offline anyway. Driving like this is not only futile, it also endangers both yourself and the driving public. If another’s reckless or negligent driving injured you in a car accident, don’t hesitate to contact us at Hogan Injury.

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