On Sunday, most of the country turned the clocks back an hour. Although it meant an extra hour of sleep, the American Auto Association (AAA) says drivers need to be reminded of the potential effects of the time changes, such as changes in sleep patterns that may increase the chances of drowsy driving. That is why the National Sleep Foundation has declared November 5 – 12 as National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.
Tiredness and fatigue can often affect your driving ability long before you even notice you’re getting tired. Those most likely to drive while drowsy or fatigued are commercial truck drivers; late-night shift workers; parents taking care of young children; people with untreated sleep disorders; and young drivers, especially men under the age of 26. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. Furthermore, studies have shown that drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving. Like alcohol and drugs, sleepiness and fatigue can impair drivers by causing slower reaction times, vision impairment, judgement impairment, and delays in processing information. Consider this: If you are traveling at 65 mph and fall asleep behind the wheel, even for a few seconds, you could drive the length of a football field in an unconscious state.
Sleep is not a luxury; a good night’s sleep should be a regular part of one’s daily routine. Have you ever driven drowsy? Here are a few warnings signs that all drivers need to be aware of, as well as tips to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel.
Warning signs of sleepiness include:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
- Difficulty 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 traffic signs or driving past your intended exit
- Yawning repeatedly and rubbing your eyes
- Feeling irritable or restless
Tips to remain alert and avoid falling asleep behind the wheel:
- Get enough sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours and most teens need 8.5-9.5 hours per night to maintain proper alertness during the day.
- Learn how to recognize sleep problems. Problems sleeping or daytime sleepiness can signal a sleep disorder or another medical condition. Talk to your doctor.
- Avoid rushing to arrive at your destination; allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
- Avoid driving alone for long distances. Share the driving with a companion and schedule breaks – approximately every 100 miles or 2 hours.
- Take a nap. Find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap if you think you might fall asleep.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness.
- Consume caffeine. Two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
Change your habits today by joining the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in its efforts to eliminate drowsy driving! You can also help raise awareness, by sharing on social media using the hashtag #AlertAtTheWheel.
Mark Bello is an attorney/author/mediator. Visit www.markmbello.com to learn about Mark and his literary and legal content and services.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.