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Do you know how to tell if you’re too drowsy to drive? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drowsy driving is a problem in America.  Everyone knows we love to drive but, as evidenced by the statistics on drinking and driving and texting and driving, many of us our not taking the responsibility of driving safely as seriously as we should.  This is just as true for estimated 168 million of us that have driven drowsy in the last year according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).  Drowsy driving is dangerous and is believed to contribute to more than 1500 fatalities every year.  Next time you get behind the wheel, take a minute to gauge how tired you are before you turn the key.


How Can I Tell if I am Too Tired to Drive?

If you are feeling a little tired and wondering how tired is too tired to drive, start by thinking about how much sleep you got last night.  Sleep loss is one of the primary risks for crashes caused by drowsy drivers according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).  If you got at least 8 hours of sleep last night, you are not at an increased risk of getting in a drowsy driving accident.  However, if you slept only 6-7 hours, your risk is doubled and if you slept less than 5 hours, you may be 4 or 5 times more likely to have an accident based on information provided by the NSF.  If you got enough sleep last night, think back over the last few nights to see if you are carrying a big sleep debt before deciding to drive.


Who is at the Greatest Risk for Drowsy Driving

Even if you got a good night’s sleep last night, you may still have a higher risk for drowsy driving accidents than other people depending on when you do the majority of your driving.  Another of the primary risks cited by the NHTSA is driving pattern.  People who drive between midnight and 6 AM, drive for long periods of time without taking a break, drive in the mid-afternoon, and those who drive a lot of miles each year all have a higher risk of getting in a drowsy driving accident than people who do not share those driving patterns.

Another primary risk group is anyone with an untreated sleep disorder, particularly people with sleep apnea and narcolepsy.  Both conditions cause daytime sleepiness that is unrelated to the amount of sleep they get at night.  In many cases, people don’t even realize they have a sleep disorder.  If you find that you are extremely tired while driving but are getting the amount of sleep you need each night, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor.  Getting to the bottom of unexplained daytime sleepiness will not only make you safer on the road, it may also improve your health and even save your life.


How to Stop Drowsy Driving

The key to stopping drowsy driving is making people understand that it is as dangerous and deadly as driving while intoxicated.  Many people discount driving while they are tired the same way they discount the need to get enough sleep at night.  Both issues are critical to the health and safety of your family.  As with any cultural shift, change happens one driver and one decision at a time.  Stop drowsy driving and you will be helping us all get one step closer to stopping drowsy driving.


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