Is Driving Drowsy Worse Than Driving Drunk?

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Most people these days believe that driving drunk is the worst thing you can do in a car. Although drunk driving is a horrible thing to do, is driving while you're tired even worse? I decided to research this more to find out.

Driving Tired.jpg

When a person becomes drowsy or sleepy, it effects many things about their body.  First, it effects reaction time which is important when you're driving because you need to be able to stay alert with what all the cars around you are doing. Second, it effects your attention span and the ability to process information, which are both really important things you need to be aware of when driving. Lastly, it simply slows your brain down. When your brain slows down, so does every other function of the body. This means things like making quick decisions and even having time to think about what turn you're going to take next. Since the effects of driving drowsy are similar to the ones of driving drunk, it's hard for scientists to really decide which is worse.

Mythbusters recently did an experiment between driving drunk and driving drowsy to see which was worse. For the experiment, they set up two driving courses. The first course was set up to imitate real life situations in driving such as stop signs, traffic lights, turns, and parallel parking. The other course was simply set up like a race track to test the drivers attention spans. To begin the experiment, two drivers, one male and one female, drove on the two different courses while they were sober to establish a baseline. Then they had the two drivers down a couple of shots, and drive the course again while they recorded the results. After the drivers had a good night's sleep, they were forced to stay up for 30 hours straight so they were real drowsy. They then drove the two courses again while they recorded the results. After comparing the results, while both driving drunk and driving drowsy proved to be dangerous, driving drowsy had more dangerous effects. The male driver actually drove 10 times worse when he was tired rather than drunk, and the female drove 3 times worse when she was tired as well. This experiment seems to support the hypothesis that driving drowsy is worse than driving drunk. It's hard to completely agree with this experiment though, simply because it's hard to determine whether or not both drivers had the same BAC levels when they were driving drunk so it might have messed up the results a bit. It's also hard to pinpoint a time when people become drowsy to the point where they can't drive because there isn't, for example, a "breathalyzer" for sleepiness levels. That point is different for every person.

Since it's hard to make all the variables equal in an experiment like the mythbusters one, I feel like it's almost better to just compare statistics and observational studies about driving drowsy versus driving drunk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in every six fatal car crashes is due to a fatigued driver as compared to one in every three fatal crashes being caused by a drunk driver. These statistics show the opposite of the experiment. They show that driving drunk is worse. The only thing that's different about these statistics though is that they compare "fatal" crashes, not all crashes. Maybe on a larger scale including all crashes, the results might be different.

The bottom line is, you shouldn't drive drunk or while drowsy because both can be fatally dangerous for you and other people on the road. What do you guys think? Do you think driving drowsy can be worse than driving drunk?

1 Comment

I've never driven drunk before, but I do know what it's like to drive drowsy. Everyday in high school I would roll out of bed and still be half-asleep when I make the drive to school. It was extremely difficult to keep my eyes open but thankfully the school was only about 5 minutes from my house and I didn't have to take any main roads. However, knowing firsthand how dangerous it is to drive when you're extremely tired, I would never drive somewhere under that condition that required me to go on a main road or if my destination was more than a few minutes away. Although in retrospect I probably shouldn't have driven at all.

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