Is Driving Hungover Worse Than Driving Drunk?

We all know not to drive when we’ve been drinking — but it seems driving the day after drinking is risky as well.

We’ve often discussed the dangers of drunk driving in this blog and for good reason — according to recent stats from the CDC, alcohol is a factor in nearly 1 out of 3 traffic fatalities. With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to remember not to drive if you’ve been imbibing. But new studies indicate that driving hungover might not be a good idea either.

Hungover drivers are inattentive drivers

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that hungover drivers were more impaired than a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05. For the study, each of the nearly 50 volunteers consumed 10 drinks and then underwent simulated driving tests the next day when their BAC was back to zero. Overall, they showed significant lapses in alertness and increases in erratic behavior such as weaving.

A smaller study by the University of the West of England had similar results. Drivers tested the morning after a night of heavy drinking showed poor reaction times, had trouble maintaining a steady speed, and made substantially more driving errors.

These findings echo a 2008 study by Brunel University in Uxbridge, England. Hungover participants in those tests drove faster, left their lanes more frequently, and committed twice as many violations like running stop signs or red lights. The researchers felt sleep deprivation, dehydration, and low blood sugar levels all played a role.

So, what’s the solution if you want to indulge? Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as just sobering up. The best plan is to designate a driver, take a cab, or ride public transit. And if you must drive the next day, wait a while. Take your party hosts out to breakfast, or arrange a late checkout at your hotel so you can get plenty of sleep.

A wake-up call about sleep deprivation

Late nights, hectic schedules, long drives to visit family, fewer hours of daylight — the holiday season is filled with reasons for feeling groggy, even if you didn’t drink the night before. Though it doesn’t usually get the same attention as driving under the influence, recent reports show that drowsy driving is a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates it’s the cause of over 100,000 accidents (and around 1,550 fatalities) each year. And a recent AAA study found that 30 percent of surveyed drivers had driven while drowsy within the previous month.

Drowsy driving can happen at any time of day. Often, drivers don’t realize how tired they are when they first get in the car, and the monotony of driving can easily lull people into a sleepy state. If you start to nod off, find a safe place to pull over and rest. It’s also a good idea to take a break every few hours on long drives, try not to drive at times you would usually be sleeping, and avoid driving alone if possible (or, even better, share the driving with an alert passenger).

So, if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends or you made a bit too merry last night, be sure you’re really ready to get behind the wheel. And however you plan to celebrate, have a safe, happy, and restful holiday season!

Related links

The drunk-driving debate: .05 versus .08
How Hollywood and Harvard powered the designated driver program

2 Responses to “Is Driving Hungover Worse Than Driving Drunk?”

  1. Lori
    December 6, 2013 #

    Well said! Important points to remember this time of year. Thanks!

  2. Mel
    December 11, 2013 #

    Being hungover makes doing everything harder lol! People should carpool or take public transportation if they've really "tied one on" the night before. Motor skills are definitely affected the next day…not to mention if a person has taken on more than they can handle the night before, they may wake up drunk or ill or both. Definitely shouldn't be driving in that condition. Great article, thanks!

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