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Moderate Alcohol + Lack of Sleep = Impaired Driving

It's dangerous to drive when you are sleep-deprived. That's why federal regulations require commercial drivers to take periodic rest breaks. But what if you've gotten five hours of sleep? Is that sufficient to enable you to stay alert while driving? Not if you have even a moderate amount of alcohol in your system, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by two researchers at Monash University in Australia, showed that people with blood alcohol content under the legal limit may still be dangerous drivers if they have had only five hours of sleep. In fact, the combination of lack of sleep and moderate alcohol results in greater drowsiness than either factor alone.

Effects of Alcohol and Sleep Deprivation as Shown in the Study

It is well-demonstrated that alcohol consumption can affect motor skills, adversely affect a person's critical thinking skills, and increase risk-taking behavior. Lack of sleep produces delayed reaction time and decreased ability to concentrate.

The study tested men between the ages of 18 and 27 in four conditions. They were subjected to tests that measured their eye movements and reaction times when they:

  • Were completely sober and well-rested
  • Had 5 hours of sleep
  • Had blood alcohol content of .05
  • Had 5 hours of sleep and blood alcohol content of .05  

Note that the blood alcohol figure of .05 is well under the legal driving limit in the U.S. It's roughly equivalent to two glasses of beer or wine consumed within an hour.

The results of the study showed that the men were most impaired when sleep-deprived and had blood alcohol content of .05. Their peak level of impairment was reached about 90 minutes after consumption of alcohol. It should be noted that the men tested were young and in good health. It's quite possible that older people or those with health issues may score even worse in terms of alertness under the same conditions.

What to Do If You Have Been Injured by an Impaired Driver

People who drive while sleep deprived and after having consumed alcohol are putting themselves and other drivers at risk. If you or a love one has been hit by a negligent driver, you may be able to claim compensation for your financial losses and pain and suffering. Speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer about your legal options.

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