Better Sleep Habits, Extra Caution Reduce Drowsy Driving Crash Risk

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Published research indicates that drowsy driving is a factor in as many as 7,500 fatal car accidents in the United States every year, according to a July 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although many of these crashes involve single vehicles, the CDC reports that drowsy driving is “disproportionately represented” in rear-end and head-on collisions.

The CDC cautions that fatigued drivers can become dangerous and make tragic mistakes behind the wheel even before they reach the point of completely falling asleep.

A drowsy driver is similar in some ways to a drunk driver. Sleepiness can make drivers less attentive to their environment, slow their reaction time and impair their decision-making skills. Like a drunk driver, a fatigued driver may also weave in the road, drift into other lanes, speed or make over-corrections.

Sleep Habits Lead to Drowsy Drivers

Unfortunately, data consistently shows that people generally do not get enough sleep in our country. In a recent survey, the Better Sleep Council found that 82 percent of Americans reported that getting just one extra hour of sleep per night would be “somewhat to extremely valuable” to them.

Still, more than half said that they did not feel that they had enough time in the day to get things done, and only 26 percent said they would actually use the extra hour to sleep if they had one.

Another complicating factor is that individual sleep needs vary. The National Sleep Foundation reports that there is no simple answer for how many hours of sleep a person needs per night to function at his or her best.

With that said, the CDC study found that drowsy driving accidents are more common among survey respondents who report sleeping five hours or less the night before a drowsy driving episode.

Signs that you are getting too drowsy include:

  • Frequent yawning
  • Rubbing your eyes
  • Drifting into other lanes
  • Hitting the rumble strips
  • Missing exits
  • Not seeing traffic signals or signs
  • Inability to remember the last few miles of the road
  • Daydreaming
  • Irritability
  • Tailgating
  • Feeling of a “heavy head.”

Tips for Avoiding Drowsy Driving Crashes

Here are some tips to reduce the chances of a drowsy driving accident:

  • Get enough sleep the night before. Do you know how much sleep you need to perform optimally? Find out and make sure to get that rest.
  • Never drink alcohol before driving. Even if your blood alcohol is technically below the “legal limit,” alcohol can still have a sedative effect.
  • Know the side effects of your medications.  A wide variety of both  prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can impair one’s ability to drive or operate machinery in a safe manner.   Make sure you know the possible side effects of the medications you take, and avoid driving while on any new medications until you know how it affects you.
  • Avoid driving at times when your body is likely to be more tired. For instance, you may want to avoid driving at night or in the mid-afternoon.
  • Break up a long trip. Make frequent stops, take coffee breaks, stop in a safe location for a nap or change drivers.
  • Stop driving immediately if you catch yourself nodding off. If you drive in this condition, you put yourself and others at serious risk.
  • The ONLY cure for drowsiness is sleep – don’t rely on unproven strategies. Don’t be fooled by so-called methods to keep yourself awake such as turning on the radio, opening the window or blasting the air conditioner.  If you are so tired that  such countermeasures seem necessary, you are too tired to drive.

Sleep-related accidents are entirely preventable. A simple judgment error could change your life or someone else’s life forever. Only you know when you are too tired to drive. If you are, pull over.

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