I was in a car accident last night. We were hit on the drivers’ side by a person who ran a red light. By the time I noticed the all-black car at night, it was too late to swerve or stop. Both my passenger and I are physically fine, save for a possibly sprained wrist. My beloved Ginger (my first car) gave her life (she’s totalled) to keep us safe.

But, this story could have ended very, very differently. If I had been going slightly faster, the impact would have been directly on my door – and it is unlikely I would have been (mostly) unscathed.

After the accident, I had the chance to sit and talk with the other driver. She felt terrible. She hadn’t been drinking or using her cellphone. She had been waiting for the light to turn green – and thought it had (it hadn’t). So, she accelerated into the intersection as I entered.

She also told me she hadn’t gotten much sleep for the last three nights.

Sleepless Dancers

A lack of sleep isn’t something new to dancers. Many of us push ourselves to function in a sleep deficit. That “we” includes me.

When we are staying at a hotel, it’s not as big a deal. We can crash in our hotel rooms, and then come down for more dancing. But, if we need to get behind the wheel and drive, this habit becomes more dangerous. At its most critical level, it can lead to us falling asleep at the wheel. Even if we don’t actually fall asleep, sleep deprivation can create unnecessary risk while driving.

On a more chronic level, some of us go dancing almost every night until 2 or 3 a.m., and then get up for work the next morning. While one night of this may be manageable, multiple nights of this behaviour can lead to similar issues related to sleep deprivation. This is a sleep deficit.

The impact of sleep deprivation on driving is often compared to drunk driving. Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that “100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries”.

Even if you don’t cause the crash, sleep deprivation can also impact how fast you can react to another driver. So, it could mean the difference between quickly swerving out of the way of a drunk driver – or not realizing until it’s too late.

What are the risk factors and warning signs that you’re not safe to drive?

DrowsyDriving.Org recognizes a number of behaviours that increase the risk of drowsy driving. Here are the ones that can often apply to those of us driving for dance:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued (6 hours of sleep or less triples your risk)
  • Suffering from sleep loss (insomnia), poor quality sleep, or a sleep debt
  • Driving long distances without proper rest breaks
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark or boring road

Part of identifying if you’re unsafe is also keeping an eye out for warning signs. According to the National Sleep Foundation, warning signs that it may be time to pull over for a nap or coffee include:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable

I know that I have done some of these myself, in my really hardcore and far-driving days. I often pulled over at a coffee shop for a tea and donut to help out. Usually, this gave me the pep I needed to finish my drive safely – but there have been times I needed to stop for a nap before driving on. Even with those mitigations, the sleep deprivation is still a risk – albeit a more manageable one.

Be Responsible

Please, dancers: keep yourself and others safe by only driving when you are fit to do so. Caffeinate. Take a nap. Stay with a friend. Get an Uber. Crash on the floor of someone’s hotel room. Whatever it is you have to do. At the end of the day, the inconvenience or cost is not worth the potential driving charges, car repairs, or (even worse) the potential mental and physical injuries that can result from a car accident.

I was lucky, but I would probably have not needed luck if the other driver was properly rested. Let’s make sure we don’t need anyone else to use their luck.