Driving Drowsy: Risks and Prevention

We’ve all done it one time or another; gotten behind the wheel when we are extremely tired. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like we have a choice in a certain situation. It’s estimated that more than 1/3 of driving American’s have actually nodded off at the wheel. Many folks have admitted that they nearly crashed or did have an accident because of dozing off when driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 100K collisions each year are a direct result of driver fatigue. Not only does this add to the over 70K injuries and over 13 billion dollars lost, but it results in over 1500 deaths each year. These numbers may be only telling a fraction of the story as it is often hard to attribute car collisions to drowsiness.

  1. Unlike intoxication, there is no test to determine a person’s level of drowsiness.
  2. Self-reporting is not reliable.
  3. Reporting practices of each state is not consistent, being that each state has a different way of reporting and coding it.
  4. Data from other countries like Finland, England, Australia and others show more consistent procedures of reporting car crashes than America. From 10 – 30% of their crashes are stated as being due to drowsy driving.
  5. Driver Fatigue plays a role in collisions which are attributed to other things like alcohol. Approximately one million of these collisions yearly are actually believed to be caused by driver lapses in attention.

Are You at Risk?

Vehicle collisions attributed to falling asleep while driving are more common in younger people, particularly men, shift workers, and adults with kids. A 2002 poll from the National Sleep Foundation shows:

  • Males tend to drive while sleepy more often than females (56% vs. 45%). Males are also twice as likely as females to nod off while driving (22% vs. 12%).
  • Adults who have kids are more likely to drive when sleepy than adults without kids (59% vs. 45%).
  • Adults from 18-29 years tend to drive while drowsy more than other age groups (71% vs. 30-64, 52% vs. 65+, 19%).
  • One study in Australia stated that being up for 18 hours simulated an impairment similar to a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours; A level at .08 is considered legally drunk.
  • Other research shows that commercial drivers and folks with undiagnosed sleep disorders such as acute insomnia and sleep apnea are at a higher risk for drowsy driving collisions as well.
  • Shift workers are more likely than people working regular hours during the day to drive drowsy to and from their job at least a few days a month (36% vs. 25%).
  • Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a sleep-related collision; when people get less sleep, their risk is greater. From a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, folks who sleep 6 to 7 hours per night are twice as likely to be in a collision than folks who get 8 or more hours. Folks who get less than 5 hours a night increase their risk up to five times.

About three fourths of American adults commute to work by driving, and many are driving while sleepy. Lapse of attention while driving are very likely to occur when one is fatigued or sleep deprived and might play a significant role in collisions that are attributed to different causes.

Quick Tips to PREVENT a Drowsy Driving Collision:

Before you hit the road, make sure you:

1. Get 8 or more hours of sleep.

2. Schedule consistent stops every two hours or 100 miles in your trip.

3. Plan ahead and drive with a companion. A passenger can help ensure you stay awake by noting any early warning signs of fatigue. You can switch driving when needed.

4. Avoid medications and alcohol. Many over the counter meds can impair focus and performance. Alcohol collaborates with fatigue and ups its effects.

5. Talk to your Doctor. If you suffer from daytime sleepiness often, snore loudly, or have a hard time sleeping at night seek a diagnosis and treatment.

If you do suffer from getting enough sleep at night and you don’t have a medical reason, it may be time to think about the different kind of mattresses that may help you sleep better. An investment in a quality bed is well worth the money when it comes to saving a life, including your own.

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