Anyone who has driven a car when they were tired knows that their ability to drive is impaired to some degree. What they don't know is the degree of impairment or how dangerous it is to drive when you're drowsy. Since it is much more difficult to determine after a crash that the driver was drowsy when the crash occurred, the reported rate for drowsy driving understates the associated level of danger. This is a topic which is often not covered in most driver training courses, including online drivers ed.
The National Sleep Foundation has dedicated the drowsy driving web site to raise the awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving. And there is a week set aside to further emphasize these dangers, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, Nov. 6-12. Drowsy driving is more dangerous than most people think and may rank up there with Distracted Driving and Driving While Impaired in regards to increasing the likelihood of a crash.
NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) states that fatigue is a cause in over 100,000 police reported crashes per year. These crashes result in over 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5M in losses. And this is a very conservative estimate given the difficulty of determining whether the driver in a crash was driving while drowsy. Some estimates in England, Finland, Australia, and other European nations where they have more consistent crash reporting show that between 10% to 30% of all crashes may be the result of drowsy driving.
The dangers of drowsy driving have also caught the attention of the automobile manufacturers, several of which are incorporating various features into their cars to help combat drowsy driving. While Mercedes is leading the charge with this type of technology, other car manufacturers may soon follow suit once drowsy driving gets the appropriate attention.
There are many warning signs that drowsiness is creeping up on a driver. When one of these occurs, it is time to safely pull off the road and get some rest rather than "powering through".
Heed these signs:
- Difficulty in keeping your head up.
- Heavy eyelids and difficulty focusing.
- Drifting in your lane, hitting the rumble strips, etc.
- Rubbing your eyes.
Some tips on how to prevent drowsy driving:
- Get adequate sleep - most people require 7-9 hours of sleep to be alert.
- Take a break after every 100 miles (or 2 hours) of driving.
- A travel companion can help keep the driver alert.
- Avoid both alcohol and sedatives.
- Drink caffeinated beverages, like coffee and caffeinated soda-pop.
- Pull into a rest stop and take a nap.
- It may be time to find a hotel and get a full night's sleep.
Drowsy driving is an understated cause of crashes and is far more dangerous than most people think. Please give a little thought to these dangers the next time you're on the road and remember the key signs and tips for avoiding these dangers