Perhaps all the recent ado concerning the impairing effects of driving while drowsy is overstated. After all, the more celebrated killer on American roadways - the drunk driver - is responsible for a fatality in one of every three car accidents he or she is involved in.
For a sleep-deprived driver, the number is one in six. Is it really much different, though, practically speaking, to state that an overly fatigued driver is only about half as dangerous as a driver who is at or above the legal threshold for being intoxicated behind the wheel?
When some other relevant statistics are thrown into the mix, alarm bells start to ring loudly as concerns America's drowsy drivers, and render them a bit more transparent as motorists who indeed merit mention as road menaces comparable to drunk drivers.
First, over 40 percent of us admit to being flat-out asleep at some point in our lives while driving. In a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 10 percent of polled motorists say they have fallen asleep at the wheel within the past year.
The danger inherent in the occasional driver whizzing by who is essentially unconscious is evident. What about the motorist, though, who is merely yawning, taking in large bursts of fresh air, trying to focus on the music and shake the cobwebs out for just a few more miles?
According to an oft-cited Australian study, that person - one who hasn't slept for about 20 hours - responds about 50 percent more slowly than a well-rested driver and drives about as effectively as a person with a blood alcohol concentration that is near the legal limit for driving drunk. Obviously, the impairment increases progressively while that person continues to drive.
What's the antidote? Safety officials stress what virtually all drivers already know, namely, this: If there's a fresh driver in the car, hand over the wheel to him or her; if possible, use public transportation; note and heed the evident signs of fatigue, such as a bobbing head, mental drifting, swerving and so forth.
Most importantly, just pull off the road and get some sleep. That action could save lives, including your own.