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Asleep at the Wheel

November 12-18 is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week

Published Nov. 8, 2012 @ 6:44 p.m.

We all know the feeling – your head is feeling heavy; you open the window for more fresh air; turn the radio up louder – you are driving and beginning to feel sleepy. A 2012 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that approximately one in ten Americans say they are likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, including while driving. In a 2010 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety telephone survey, 41.0% of drivers admitted to having “fallen asleep or nodded off” while driving at some point in their lives.

National Drowsy Driving Awareness Week is a campaign to call attention to the need to educate drivers on the importance of getting enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. While drowsy driving is a problem that can affect all drivers, the problem is most prevalent among young drivers, shift workers, and those who work long hours. The majority of drowsy-driving-related crashes are caused by drivers who are younger than 25 years, especially males. Teens need more sleep than older adults, but they seldom get enough rest. Teens also are more inclined to drive at night and during the early morning hours, when drowsiness is more likely to occur. Parents can help by making sure their teens are getting enough sleep.

Whether young or old, drowsy drivers are a danger to themselves, as well as others on the road. Like alcohol and drugs, sleep loss impairs driving skills, making hand-eye coordination, reaction time, vision, awareness of surroundings, judgment, and decision-making more difficult. AAA estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for approximately16.5% of fatal crashes. The risks of drowsy driving can be reduced by educating all drivers to watch out for signs of sleepiness at the wheel.

Know the danger signals of drowsy driving:

* Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
* Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
* Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
* Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
* Trouble keeping your head up
* Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
* Feeling restless and irritable.

Suggestions to keep alert behind the wheel:

* Get adequate sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours to maintain proper alertness during the day.
* Schedule proper breaks – about every 100 miles or 2 hours during long trips.
* Arrange for a travel companion – someone to talk with and share the driving.
* Avoid alcohol and sedating medications. Check your labels, or ask your doctor.

Countermeasures to prevent a fall-asleep crash while driving:

* Find a safe place to stop for a break or for the night.
* Drink a caffeinated drink. Be aware that it may take up to 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the blood stream. This is only a short-term benefit. People who regularly consume caffeine may not experience the same effect.

Source: National Sleep Foundation, http://drowsydriving.org

Nothing takes the place of sleep in preventing a drowsy-driving-related crash. Be sure to be well rested before you drive. Most people know how dangerous drinking and driving is; driving drowsy can be just as fatal as driving drunk. Drive Alert…Arrive Alive!

 

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