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Driving while sleepy causes one in six traffic fatalities – June 1, 2012

The AAA foundation has estimated that approximately one in six vehicle crashes that result in a fatality are caused by a drowsy driver.  The National Sleep Foundation has also found in a 2011 poll that roughly ten percent of drivers between the ages of sixteen and forty-five report driving drowsy once or twice per month.

Unfortunately, driving while not fully awake is a by-product of our current society. People need to work longer hours, work multiple jobs and may not be sleeping well due to stress related concerns.  What people may not know when they find themselves in this condition, is the inherent dangers involved and the steps they can take to minimize the dangers to themselves and others.

Similar to driving under the influence, drowsiness generally causes slower reaction times, visual impairment, effects on judgment and delays in processing information.  Studies have shown that driving while being awake for more than 20 hours has the same effect on the body as 0.08% blood alcohol content – the legal limit in all states.   In addition to the above, the possibility of simply falling asleep and driving off the road while in this condition is an obvious danger.

Following are the warning signs that it is time to pullover and find a place to rest:

–          Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids

–          Difficulty keeping 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

Following are some suggestions to help you deal with the dangers of drowsy driving:

–          Get a good night’s sleep of seven to nine hours before traveling.

–          Plan your trip to allow time to drive alert and arrive alive. Avoid trying to maximize the holiday weekend by driving through the night or eliminating breaks.

–          Travel with someone else. Not only can they take over if needed, but can help identify the warning signs of drowsy driving.

–          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.

Information for this article was gathered from the National Sleep Foundation. For more information please go to DrowsyDriving.org.

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