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Risks of Drowsy Driving

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Posted on August 19, 2013

As America’s driving population grows, today’s county roads and interstates are constantly expanding in an attempt to keep pace with unprecedented demands that rush-hour traffic places on existing infrastructure.

Many people are aware of the pitfalls of drunk driving, but drowsy driving is another dangerous condition that deserves our attention. Drowsy driving can impair a driver’s abilities just as much as the influence of alcohol or drugs, greatly increasing a driver’s risk of being involved in an accident resulting in serious injury or death.

Top Seven Driver Groups at Highest Risk for Drowsy Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that, while fatal crashes resulting from drowsy driving are difficult to track, at least 5,000 fatal crashes each year are caused by drowsy drivers. The groups most at risk for drowsy driving are:

  • Commercial drivers (Truckers & Long Distance Drivers)
  • Business Travelers or Shift Workers (2nd & 3rd shift)
  • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders (sleep apnea, narcolepsy)
  • Drivers using medications with sedating side effects (some allergy/cold medications or prescription painkillers)
  • Drivers who have consumed alcohol (even if BAC is under the legal limit)
  • Drivers who are sleep-deprived
  • Drivers within the ages 16 to 25 (especially males)

Seven Common Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving

Drowsiness affects the body in almost the exact same way as alcohol. Reaction times slow down, distance perception can decrease, mental awareness lessens, and the ability to hold a straight driving line becomes difficult. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):

“Cognitive impairment after approximately 18 hours awake is similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.05%. After about 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10%, higher than the legal limit in all states.”

Early signs of drowsy driving include:

  • Repeated yawning
  • Driver Inattention (“zoning out,” lack of awareness)
  • Inability to keep eyes open, frequently blinking, fluttering eyelids
  • Inability to keep head raised (partial or full nodding)
  • Not remembering the last few miles driven
  • Drifting or wandering between lanes
  • Drifting onto the shoulder or rumble strips

Four Simple Tips to Help Prevent Drowsy Driving

Drivers can take active measures to minimize the impact of drowsy driving. A few simple, consistently taken precautions can help prevent drowsy driving accidents:

Get adequate sleep: Adults require 7-8 hours of sleep each night, adolescents require 9-10. If circumstances have deprived you of sleep for 14 hours or longer, do not drive until you’re able to sleep.

See your doctor: If your sleep seems irregular, consult your doctor or see a sleep specialist. Many mild cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed for years and severely impact the quality of a person’s sleeping hours.

Don’t drink and drive: Abstain from consuming alcohol before driving. Learn how medications affect your body before driving. Do not drive after taking any medications that have drowsiness warnings.

Plan ahead for long trips: If possible, bring a passenger on long trips to share conversations and driving duties. Plan to take a break every two hours or 100 miles (get out and walk around). Avoid driving late hours or straight through times during which you would normally be sleeping. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule and plan your road progress around it.

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