Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving: Awake at the Wheel

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Difference between Drowsy Driving and Drunk Driving

Driving is an activity that requires a great deal of concentration and focus. And when the driver doesn’t have those–either due to drowsiness or alcohol intoxication–the results can be disastrous. And as different as the results of drowsy driving and drunk driving are, these results are often similar. In this comparison article, we take a look at the similarities and differences between drowsy and drunk driving.

Drowsy Driving
Drunk Driving


Drowsy driving is the term used to refer to the operation of a motor vehicle while being in a state lacking sleep. This is actually one of the primary causes of accidents involving motor vehicles, since sleep deprivation has been proven to affect the brain just as much, and just as adversely, as alcohol consumption.

Drunk driving for its part is the term used to refer to operating any type of motorized machinery or vehicle under the influence of alcohol. As with drowsy driving, it is one of the leading causes of vehicular accidents in the world.


In the United States alone, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 drivers fall asleep while driving every single day. This figure is the result of a study conducted by Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine and a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. The studies showed that 54% of all adult drivers surveyed claimed that they had driven cars while drowsy, and as many as 28% said that they had in fact fallen asleep while at the wheel. Another study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that drowsy driving is a mitigating factor in over 100,000 crashes, with 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries reported every year.

In the United States, almost 1,500,000 arrests for drunk driving were made by law enforcement agencies in 1996. This is on contrast to over 1.9 million similar arrests made for the same offense in 1983. By 1997, it was estimated that more than 500,000 drunk driving were placed in prison, which is a significant reduction in convicted drunk driving offenders from 1990.


As mentioned previously, drowsy driving and drunk driving often result in the same consequences, the most important of which is the radical increase in the risk of accidents, injury and even death. This is because sleepiness, like drunkenness, dramatically reduces awareness, slows down the reaction time of people, and impairs judgment. A recent study has in fact shown that people who have been awake for almost 20 hours exhibited pretty much the same symptoms and behavior as people with blood alcohol levels of 0.05.


Drowsy driving

  • The operation of a motor vehicle while being in a state lacking sleep
  • One of the primary causes of accidents involving motor vehicles
  • Proven to affect the brain just as much, and just as adversely, as alcohol consumption

Drunk driving

  • The operation of motorized machinery or vehicle under the influence of alcohol
  • One of the leading causes of vehicular accidents in the world


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