How many times have you been driving on the highway and caught yourself nodding off? Unfortunately, you’re not the only one. In one study, 41% of participants admitted that they have fallen asleep at the wheel at some point while one in ten drivers (10%) reported they had done so within the past year.
The good news? People are beginning to identify the issue. A new poll commissioned by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) shows that a total of 97% of those polled see drowsy driving as a threat to safety, with more than 68% considering it to be a major threat. The bad news? Three in 10 Americans reported not
knowing how many hours they could be awake without sleep and still drive safely.
Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. “Few people realize it, but drowsy driving can be just as fatal as drinking and driving,” states Det. Steve Pederson of the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department. “Like alcohol and drugs, sleep loss or fatigue impairs driving skills such as hand-eye coordination, reaction time, vision, awareness of surroundings, decision-making, judgment, and inhibition,” Pederson adds. Studies show that after 17 to 19 hours without sleep, driving performance impairment is equal to 0.05% blood alcohol content. After 24 hours, that impairment rises to 0.10% - legally drunk in every state.
Whether we miscalculate how tired we are or how our fatigue will affect our driving, more often than not we will get behind the wheel when we are too tired to drive without really understanding the danger we pose to ourselves and other drivers. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that one out of every six (16.5%) deadly traffic accidents, and one out of eight (12.5%) crashes requiring hospitalization of car drivers or passengers is due to drowsy driving. The statistics are alarming, and people are finally starting to wake up and realize that the risks of driving while tired are no joke.
Thankfully, the problem of drowsy driving has gotten attention as organizations like the National Sleep Foundation (NSF)
and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
have worked to raise awareness and prevent these unnecessary accidents. To bring heightened awareness to the dangers of driving while sleep deprived, the National Sleep Foundation has declared November 5-12 as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week ®. The Foundation’s annual outreach effort aims to reduce the number of drivers who decide to drive sleep deprived, which are responsible for more than 6,400 U.S. deaths annually.
It's not always easy to tell when you're too tired to drive. Try paying attention to some of these signs that it's time to pull over:
- 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
Taking drowsy driving seriously is the best way to prevent unnecessary accidents. You may have been lucky the one time, but next time you could become the latest victim of the tragedy of drowsy driving. If you are sleepy, stay off the road.
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