The highway stretches endlessly before you. You wonder whether this is how people feel when they are trying to cross a vast desert wasteland. No matter how far you travel the road still somehow extends all the way to the horizon.
As you stubbornly soldier on, your eyelids begin to droop like a curtain closing on a stage. You fiddle with the radio control, trying to find something suitably loud and upbeat. Unfortunately, the only station that comes in clearly plays classical music. Beethoven is not going to be helpful in this situation. You shut the radio off and try giving yourself little slaps on the cheek. That seems to work in cartoons and movies, but proves somewhat less effective in real life. You focus all of your attention on staying awake and alert. It’s all about mind over matter, right? Not quite. In another moment your eyes have closed and your head droops to your chest, moving up and down like a Bubblehead.
Your car drifts into the other lane, and an oncoming truck blares its horn. You snap to attention and haul your car back into the proper lane. The truck driver drives by, cursing and making obscene gestures at you. You just came incredibly close to becoming another victim of drowsy driving.
Is drowsy driving really that big of a problem? If you believe the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), then yes. According to their website, “Drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. As tragic as these numbers are, they only tell a portion of the story. It is widely recognized that drowsy driving is underreported as a cause of crashes.” Furthermore, the NHTSA doesn’t include in those numbers crashes that are caused by simple driver inattention.
A recent poll completed by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60% of Americans have driven when tired, and an alarming 37% admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people who snore or get less than six hours of sleep per night are much more likely to have fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Clearly, drowsy driving is a major concern for anyone on the road.
What are the warning signs of drowsy driving? Most people are at least vaguely aware of when they begin feeling sleepy, but while driving we tend to ignore our body’s cues and tell ourselves, “I’m fine. I’m not going to fall asleep. I’ll just push through this.” While that kind of go-getter attitude may be admirable in other circumstances, it poses a serious safety threat when driving. So how do you know whether you are in danger of engaging in drowsy driving? Warning signs include: Yawning repeatedly Drifting into another lane or onto the shoulder Difficulty focusing on the road Blinking Frequently Missing your exit or turn Difficulty recalling the past few miles Tailgating other vehicles If you notice yourself or another driver exhibiting these symptoms, you should immediately pull over and rest or switch drivers if you’ve got any passengers with you. If you continue driving, you are putting yourself and everyone else on the road in serious danger.
How to prevent drowsy driving Drowsy driving is dangerous because it makes drivers less attentive to the task of driving, significantly slows reaction time, and negatively impacts decision making abilities. All of these factors combine make a very dangerous person behind the wheel.
The most effective way to avoid falling asleep at the wheel is to get adequate amounts of sleep. The CDC recommends seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night for adults. Also, if you are planning on embarking on a lengthy trip, you should have a travel buddy come along if possible so the two of you can take turns at the wheel. You should also take a break after every 100 miles to stretch, get a snack or refreshment, and maybe even take a catnap (15-20 minutes). And always, avoid medications that cause drowsiness and alcoholic beverages before driving.
Remember, drowsy driving is extremely dangerous and costs thousands of lives every year. Make sure you don’t become a statistic.