When it comes to accidents behind the wheel, people may be quick to blame inebriated drivers. Although drunk, drugged and distracted driving is an epidemic, there is another concern on the nation’s roadways – drowsy driving.

Drowsy driving is responsible for many injuries and deaths every year. The Canadian Automobile Association says 20 percent of accidents in Canada are attributed to drowsy driving.

Many drivers admit to getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy, and about 20 percent admit to falling asleep behind the wheel at some point over the last year.

Just like drugs and alcohol or distractions like eating or texting while driving, drowsy driving impairs reaction time behind the wheel. Drivers’ ability to recognize hazards, avoid such hazards and sustain their attention is adversely affected the more tired they are. In fact, the National Safety Council says

driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is equivalent to driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent.

The risk of crash depends on the amount of hours of sleep. Whereas getting six to seven hours of sleep equates to 1.3 times the crash risk, getting less than four hours of sleep increases that risk to 11.5 times. Officers with the New Brunswick Royal Canadian Mounted Police say drowsy driving can be just as deadly as driving impaired.

In addition to getting more rest, experts advise reading medication labels to determine if side effects include drowsiness. People who are often tired or are having sleeping difficulties also should schedule appointments with their doctors to address this issue. Anyone who feels tired behind the wheel, has drifted out of his lane, missed road signs or turns, or has difficulty maintaining speed should pull over where it is safe and take a break.