Distracted, Drowsy, and Dehydrated Driving are Dangerous


I’m sure you know better than to drink and drive…and I’m sure you’d never allow a loved one to drive drunk.

The legal penalties aside, the risk of hurting yourself or someone else is a risk that no one should be willing to take.

That much isn’t controversial. You’ll have to search far and wide to find someone willing to poo-poo drunk driving laws.

But did you know that many of us drive “drunk” nearly every day?

I don’t mean that we drink too much and get behind the wheel. I mean we take certain actions (or inactions) that impairs our judgment, and our reflexes, as much as drinking alcohol can.

Below, you’ll find the three mistakes that lead to “sober drunk driving”. Pay special attention. Remember them, and keep yourself and your loved ones from committing these errors.

Because I know you would never let your loved ones drive drunk. And the following, believe it or not, is just as bad.

Distracted Driving

Today, there’s a huge ongoing push to highlight the danger of texting while driving.

And there’s good reason for this.

When you drive distracted—like sending or receiving texts, or fiddling with playlists—you are 23 times more likely to crash.

18% of all 2012 crashes were the direct result of distracted driving. That led to over 3,300 deaths, and 421,000 injuries.

40% of American teens can recall being in a car when the driver was distracted to the point of danger.

This is very simple. Driving isn’t particularly difficult—when you’re paying attention. Let your attention wander, and you can easily miss something crucial—like a hard-braking truck in front of you, a child chasing a ball, or your own car drifting off the road.

When you are driving, just drive. Texts can wait. A bad song will end in a few minutes.

Texting while driving, however, can lead to an accident that will haunt you through eternity.

Drowsy Driving

Falling asleep at the wheel is, clearly, extremely dangerous. And a surprising number of people do it regularly. In fact, in one survey, over 4% of those surveyed reported falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days.

But driving while sleepy is almost as bad.

For those who have been up 18 hours, it’s like having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05% (2-3 drinks depending on your body type and metabolism). If you’ve been up for 24 hours straight, it’s like having a BAC of 0.10%—above the legal limit.

And if you are chronically sleep-deprived, the cumulative effects can be very similar.

When you drive drowsy, you exhibit the same symptoms as drunk driving. Namely, slower reflexes, poor judgment, and decreased attention.

If you find yourself yawning frequently, unable to remember the last few miles, drifting in your lane, or missing your exit, pull over to a rest area. Switch drivers. Take a cat nap.

Just don’t keep driving. Turning up the music, or lowering your window, doesn’t have any appreciable effect. Only rest will help.

Also, know if you’re in a risky category. If you’re taking a medication that can have sedating effect—especially if you’ve just started it—avoid driving at all. If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, pay special attention.

And if you snore and get less than six hours of sleep a night, you’re in the red zone. In the survey I mentioned above, almost 9% of the snoring-sleepy subsection fell asleep at the wheel in the previous 30 days.

Again, driving isn’t that challenging. As long as you’re awake and alert enough to deal with any problems that might arise.

Dehydrated Driving

This may be the most surprising result, but it’s absolutely true.

Driving while even mildly dehydrated can lead to twice as many mistakes. About the same number as a drunk driver commits.

A simulated test came to these unexpected conclusions. Drivers were tested on two occasions—once, when properly hydrated (with 200 ml of water, per hour, for a two-hour drive), and once when not (only 25ml per hour for the same stretch of road).

Driver errors leapt from 47 to 101 between the two tests.

More alarming, the errors increased as time passed, with the last half-hour of the test exhibiting a very dangerous number of mistakes.

You already know that you should make efforts to stay hydrated throughout the day. Here’s one more incentive.

If you’re on a long drive, make sure you keep your hydration levels up as well. Stop for liquids when you run out.

And if you’ve got a job that keeps you from water before you head home at the end of the day, make an effort to refuel before hitting the road.

Drunk driving gets all the press. But you should also be concerned with these three other “D”s as well—Distracted, Drowsy, and Dehydrated driving.

Avoid all four. Because all four can lead to the worst kind of regrets.


Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published:
September 23, 2015