English: Interstate 80 in western Utah, remind...

Are you driving drowsy? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many times have you been driving down the highway and caught yourself starting to doze off?  According to the National Sleep Foundation, at least 60% of American drivers have had this happen at least once.  Whether we miscalculate how tired we are or how our fatigue will affect our driving, more often than not we will get behind the wheel when we are too tired to drive without really understanding the danger we pose to ourselves and the other drivers on the road.


In recent years, the problem of drowsy driving has gotten attention as organizations like the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and they have worked to raise awareness and prevent these unnecessary accidents. This year, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, a nationwide campaign put on by the NSF, runs from November 6th to the 12th.  Help raise awareness by informing yourself and the people you care about on the dangers of drowsy driving and do your part to keep drowsy drivers off the road.


The Statistics

The stats on drowsy driving are startling and should be enough to wake anyone up to the severity of the problem.  According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drowsy driving is involved in one of every six crashes that results in a fatality and one in every eight accidents where someone has to go to the hospital.  These figures are significantly higher than previous research indicated, showing that drowsy driving is a more pressing and prevalent problem then was previously thought.

Current estimates from the National Highway Safety Administration indicate that drowsy driving is responsible for more than 100,000 accidents, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths each year.  Young drivers, those under the age of 24, are twice as likely to have a drowsy driving related accident but cars with a passenger are half as likely.  More than half of all drowsy driving accidents involve the driver drifting into the other lane or going off the road. More than half of the drivers who report falling asleep at the wheel indicate they were on  the highway when they fell asleep.

Contrary to what many people believe, more than half the drivers who have reported falling asleep had been driving less than an hour when it happened.  This isn’t only a problem for late night driving either with almost a quarter of these drivers fell asleep in the afternoon, between noon and 5PM.   Being overtired can cause the same level of impairment as alcohol and drugs, slowing the drivers reactions time, causing lapses in judgment, and impairing both vision and the ability to process information rapidly.  Drivers don’t have to be that sleepy to encounter this level of impairment.  Being awake for 20 hours or more is enough to impair a driver to the same level as the legal blood alcohol concentration in all states.


The Signs


The key to preventing drowsy driving is to know when you are at risk and the signs that you are too tired to drive.  People who work on the night shift, rotating shifts, or more than 60 hours a week are at increased risk of having a drowsy driving accident.  Those with untreated sleep apnea may be seven times as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving accident.  Drivers under 26 and those who have lifestyle factors that lead to sleep deprivation are all at a higher risk for drowsy driving accidents.

There are signs you can watch for that can help you determine if you or another driver is too tired to continue driving.  Remember, fatigue impairs judgment and many people who should not be driving think they are fine to drive.  Knowing these signs can help you make the right decision in the moment.

  • Your car seems to be drifting into the other lane or into the breakdown lane.
  • You have missed traffic signs like stop signs, stop lights, or missed an exit off the highway.
  • You are having difficulty keeping your eyes open or your head up.
  • You are yawning, rubbing your eyes, blinking a lot, or getting irritable.
  • You have been driving for a long time without a break.
  • You are sleep deprived in some way including getting less than 6 hours sleep or suffering from insomnia or another sleep disorder.
  • You are driving alone, at night, or on the highway.

Taking drowsy driving seriously is the best way to prevent unnecessary accidents.  The National Sleep Foundation wants all drivers to Drive Alert and Arrive Alive.  Spread the word and do your part to keep our streets safe.  If you are sleepy, stay off the road.


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