The truck driver who was involved in the June 7 car accident that injured comedian Tracy Morgan and killed comedian James McNair had not slept for more than 24 hours in the time before the crash occurred, according to news reports.
A criminal complaint was filed on Monday that said Kevin Roper, who is facing several charges including vehicular homicide, reckless driving and assault, was driving “without having slept for a period in excess of 24 hours,” NBC News reported.
Of course, it’s no secret at this point just how deadly drowsy driving is. A recent Archives of Internal Medicine study even showed how similar it is to drunk driving, with both doubling the risk of a car accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 100,000 crashes occur a year that directly result from driver fatigue, causing a yearly toll of 71,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths from those accidents.
Research has shown that staying up for 21 hours straight leads to detriments in the ability to maintain speed and road position while driving, said Dr. Nathaniel Watson, M.D., an associate professor of neurology University of Washington and co-director of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center.
"Your reaction time is slowed, your psychomotor vigilance [is affected]," Watson, who also serves on the board of directors for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, told HuffPost. And "people that are severely sleep-deprived can have brief microsleeps, where if you’re measuring the EEG on their brain, they have a few seconds of sleep that would actually be captured [by the EEG sensor]."
Sleep deprivation doesn't just affect the parts of the brain that control wake and sleep -- it also affects the brain regions responsible for memory and executive functioning of the human body and the parts of the brain that help you plan and think through different decisions through the day.
So not only are things like concentration and attention affected by lack of sleep, but "it really impairs a person's ability to make correct decisions," Watson said. "The more sleep-deprived a person gets, the less insight they have into their problems. So unfortunately, the more sleep-deprived a person is, the less they understand how sleepy they actually are and how impaired they are."