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Sleep-deprived driving remains a big problem

New Jersey was the first state to criminalize drowsy driving. But has it helped? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that sleep-deprived drivers are responsible for 100,000 car accidents pet year. Those accidents injure over 70,000 people and kill approximately 1,500 people.

Under New Jersey law, anyone who drives without having slept at all in the preceding 24 hours is considered a reckless driver, subject to criminal prosecution. The statute is known as "Maggie's Law," after a head-on crash by a dozing driver that killed Maggie McDonnell, age 20, in 1997. Now, new data shows that Americans who aren't getting enough sleep over a 24-hour period are much more likely to cause accidents as well.

Is getting six hours of sleep per night enough?

The new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety puts the problem of sleep deprivation on our roads in even brighter focus. It turns out that getting five to six hours of sleep in a 24-hour period is enough to impair a person's driving. In fact, it makes your likelihood of crashing twice as high as that of someone who gets seven-plus hours of sleep. Now, you may feel perfectly fine-that could be your normal amount of sleep. But studies show that your reaction time may be slower and your focus and attention span may drift.

How about four hours of sleep...or less?

As sleep hours go down, accident risks go up-way up. Someone who's only managed to grab four hours of sleep has four times the crash rate of a well-rested person. This puts the impairment factor on par with having blood alcohol content high enough to meet or exceed the legal limit for drunk driving. And any amount less than four hours is seriously hazardous, with the crash rate more than 11 times that of someone who's slept seven hours or more.

It's an odd concept to think about. When it comes to alcohol, we learn our limits and know when we shouldn't have the keys. We know when to designate a driver or summon a cab. Yet every day there are millions of people operating vehicles without having had enough sleep. While they may seem just fine, or just a little tired, the fact is that they're endangering themselves and others.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Unfortunately, being educated on this topic doesn't protect you from sleepy drivers. But being armed with the information, you'll know when to refrain from driving. If you do become injured in a crash with a sleep-deprived driver, it might be a good idea to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney about your options. 

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