"People underestimate how tired they are and think that they can stay awake by sheer force of will," said Thomas Balkin, Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation, in a statement for the press. "This is a risky misconception. Would there be 1.9 million fatigue-related crashes or near misses if people were good at assessing their own ability to drive when fatigued?"
"The problem," says Balkin, "is that although we are pretty good at recognizing when we feel sleepy, we do not recognize the process of actually falling asleep as it is happening. The process robs us of both self-awareness and awareness of our environment. All it takes is a moment of reduced awareness to cause a crash."
Fatigue also slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment. However, the National Sleep Foundation warns that unlike an awake driver impaired by alcohol, a sleeping driver is unable to take any action to avoid a crash.
"Too many Americans are exhausted when they get behind the wheel, and they may not fully understand how dangerous it is to drive while drowsy," says David M. Cloud, the National Sleep Foundation's CEO.
"The National Sleep Foundation recommends that drivers take practical measures when they feel that sleepiness is impairing their driving. Unfortunately, many drivers are misinformed on what to do in this situation. Understanding crucial warning signs and countermeasures is key to preventing fatigue-related crashes."