It’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week®, a National Sleep Foundation public awareness campaign to educate drivers about sleep safety. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a new study showing that the tragedy of drowsy driving is more pervasive than shown in previous estimates. Their study shows that drowsy driving involves about one in six deadly crashes; one in eight crashes resulting in occupant hospitalization, and one in fourteen crashes in which a vehicle was towed. These percentages are substantially higher than most previous estimates, suggesting that the contribution of drowsy driving to motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths has not been fully appreciated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving results in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analysis of the accidents resulting from drivers falling asleep behind the wheels is cause for alarm and concern. According to the study, younger drivers age 16-24 were nearly twice as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash as drivers age 40-59, and about 57 percent of drowsy driving crashes involved the driver drifting into other lanes or even off the road. The study also found that –
- Vehicles in which the driver was accompanied by a passenger were nearly 50 percent less likely to be involved in a drowsy driving related crash.
- More than half (55%) of those drivers who reported having fallen asleep while driving in the past year said that it occurred on a high-speed divided highway.
- More than half (59%) of those drivers who reported having fallen asleep while driving in the past year said they had been driving for less than an hour before falling asleep; only one in five reported they had been driving for three hours or longer.
- More than one in four drivers (26%) who reported having fallen asleep while driving in the past year reported that it had occurred between noon and 5 p.m.
- Men (52%) were much more likely than women (30%) to report having ever fallen asleep while driving; men (14%) were also more likely than women (8%) to admit having done so in the past year.
- Drivers age 24 and younger were most likely to report having fallen asleep in the past year, but they were least likely to report having ever fallen asleep. This is consistent with other studies that have found younger drivers to have a higher risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
About one-third (28%) of Americans admitted that they have fallen asleep behind the wheel within the past year, and more than half (54%) said they have driven while drowsy.
The following warning signs indicate that it’s time to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over and address your condition:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
- Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
- Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven
- Missing exits or traffic signs
- Yawning repeatedly
- Feeling restless, irritable, or aggressive.
Sleepiness can impair drivers by causing slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment and delays in processing information. In fact, studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal limit in all states. It is also possible to fall into a 3-4 second microsleep without realizing it.
Here’s what you can do to prevent a fall-asleep crash:
- Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
- Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks.
- It’s better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
- Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
- Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.
- Take a nap—find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
For more information about drowsy driving, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s drowsy driving website. Learn more about the study and download the free brochure from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, How To Avoid Drowsy Driving.