Drowsy and Deadly?

It’s happened to many of us: driving while feeling drowsy or even falling asleep at the wheel!  As our lives get busier and we have more to get done each day, Americans are trying to get caught up on daily tasks when they should be sleeping. Then the next day, we drive feeling drowsy.  According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 60% of drivers say they have driven while drowsy in the last twelve months. More than 103 million drivers (or 37%) say they have actually fallen asleep behind the wheel! If those statistics aren’t enough of a wake up call, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that driver fatigue-related accidents cost $12.5 billion per year.

Drowsy DrivingTo help bring some awareness to this growing problem, November 12-18 is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. Sponsored by the NSF, this week aims to educate the public about the risks of driving while drowsy and take preventable measures to improve safety on the road.

All humans generally need 7-9 hours of sleep on a daily basis. Sleepiness can result from simply not getting enough sleep (chronic sleep debt) or from sleep interruption, driving at night or work schedules. Going without or getting too little sleep, combined with other factors, can be deadly.  Those other factors include the use of sedating medications and the consumption of any amount of alcohol when a person is already tired.

Studies show that specific people are at risk:

  • Males under the age of 26
  • Shift workers
  • Commercial drivers
  • People with untreated obstructive sleep apnea
  • Business travelers

So if you fall into one of those categories, how do you know if you are actually at risk? Below are some specific risk-factors to consider before you get behind the wheel:

  • Did you get less than 6 hours of sleep?
  • Was your sleep of poor quality?
  • Do you drive long distances without rest breaks?
  • Are you driving at a time when you would normally be asleep?
  • Are you taking any medication (over the counter or prescription) that has sedating effects?
  • Do you work more than 60 hours per week?
  • Do you work more than one job?
  • Does your work involve shift work?
  • Have you drunk even small amounts of alcohol?
  • Are you going to be driving alone?
  • Are you going to be driving in a rural or dark area for a stretch of time?

Did you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions? Then ‘yes’, you are at risk for an accident.

So how can you prevent drowsy driving if you are in one of the at-risk categories?

  • Before driving, get adequate sleep.
  • Schedule proper breaks on the road.
  • Arrange for a travel companion.
  • Avoid alcohol and medications with sedation effects.
  • Plan to have someone else drive (if possible).

Planning ahead when you are too sleepy to drive is no different than planning ahead when you are going to be consuming alcohol. If you wait until the last minute, you are more likely to be ‘stuck’ and forced to drive and put yourself and countless others at risk.