Many of us have struggled with keeping awake behind the wheel. Too many. One in six fatal crashes—about 17 percent of all crashes—are related to a drowsy driver (pdf), according to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This study is a wake-up call that drowsy driving is a factor in more crashes than previously thought, contributing to highway crashes and fatalities, along speeding, drunk driving, and distracted driving.
The study found that 41 percent admit to falling asleep or nodding off at some point during their driving experience, based on a telephone survey of 2,000 U.S. residents. One in 10 said they did so in the past year and 27 percent of those surveyed said they were so tired behind the wheel that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
Drowsy driving was attributed to 730 deaths in 2009—about 2 percent of all vehicular fatalities, but an analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash data reveals that one in six or 16 percent of deadly crashes involve a driver who is sleepy and one in eight result in hospitalization. These statistics are higher than previous estimates and suggest that drowsy driving is a more prevalent factor in crashes, deaths, and injuries.
Young drivers age 16 to 24 years are more likely to drive drowsy and two out of three sleepy drivers are men. Shift workers are also affected, as well as those who may have a sleep disorder.
In our busy lives we don’t get as much sleep as we would like, but the affects of sleeplessness could have dire consequences behind the wheel. Sleeplessness can lead to slow reaction time, poor vision, missed exits or traffic signs, trouble staying in the lane, and unpredictable behavior This puts the driver, as well as others on the road, in serious danger.
Here are some tips to help reduce or prevent drowsy driving.
- Get adequate sleep before you get in the car (at least six hours).
- Take breaks—especially if driving a long distance.
- Arrange for a travel companion to swap driving duties. People who drive with a passenger are over 50 percent less likely to be involved in a crash.
- Avoid alcohol and/or medications that can cause drowsiness.
- If feeling tired or unable to keep your eyes open, pull off the road and nap for 15-20 minutes.
- Caffeine may help, but it can take some time to get into your system and when it wears off, you can feel even more tired.
- If you have a teen driver, implement your own nighttime driving restrictions.
- Drinking a good quantity of water helps as it prevents dehydration that can cause drowsiness. It also requires you to pull over regularly and stretch your legs for a bathroom break.