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Mattress News Why Drowsy Driving is a Big Deal

Published on December 6th, 2013 | by Mattress Journal

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Why Drowsy Driving is a Big Deal

Drowsy driving is one of the biggest dangers on American roads, and a shocking percentage of the population drives tired. Sleep loss can have significant effects on a person, from physical tiredness and exhaustion to slowing mental performance and even affecting moods. And when sleep loss turns into chronic sleep deprivation, the effects can be fairly severe, and can impact not only an individual but also the people around them. In America, some surveys have estimated that as much as 60% of the adult population or more doesn’t get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that 30% of workers regularly suffer from sleep deprivation, reporting less than 6 hours of shut-eye per night.

In addition to effects on individual health, job performance, and relationships, sleep loss is also significant because drowsy driving is a leading cause of accidents. Getting behind the wheel while tired is a danger to one’s self as well as others on the road. With the the significant proportion of the adult population suffering from sleep loss, that means millions of the drivers on the road with you every day are impaired!

The lack of sleep facing this country is a very big deal, and drowsy driving is just one of the more noticeable side effects. Recent studies have determined that sleepy drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers, and that drowsy driving is responsible for thousands of accidents each year – costing a lot of money and even lives. Several high-profile cases have highlighted the issue such as the recent New York train derailment, a 2011 Las Vegas tour bus accident, and a fatal accident caused by a Mars candy heiress, to name a few.

Drowsy Driving Stats and Information

Drowsy driving mimics the effects of drunk driving, with impaired and significantly slower response times according to several different studies. (Discovery’s Mythbusters team even did an episode to see how drowsy and drunk compared in 2010 – they actually found more impairment in both Tory and Kari while driving tired than tipsy!).

Driving tired is considered to be a significant factor in 55% of the accidents that occur in people aged 25 and under, and in as many as one-third of ALL fatal accidents. It affects every-day commuters as well as professional transportation workers and truckers. Falling asleep at the wheel for even a second can result in an accident, and reduced response times can also make you slower to brake or prevent you from noticing other drivers’ mistakes as well. Here are few thought-provoking statistics and figures to consider from CDC.gov and DrowsyDriving.org.

How does drowsiness affect a driver?

  • After 18 hours of wakefulness, a person’s abilities are impaired in a manner similar to that experienced with a blood alcohol level of 0.05, which increases to 0.10 after 24 hours of being awake. A BAC of 0.08 is considered drunk driving in most states.
  • This means slower reaction times, reduced decision making capacity, and of course, the risk of nodding off at the wheel.

The National Road Safety Foundation offers a video series called “Almost Home” which shows four poignant, real stories from people whose lives were dramatically affected by drowsy driving. It is definitely worth watching in order to drive home the significance, and can be useful to share with teen drivers as well to make the issue more real.

How common is drowsy driving?

  • 5% of all drivers aged 18-44 (or 1 in 24 of all drivers) have admitted falling asleep while driving, just in the previous month before surveyed.
  • According to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of adult drivers say they have driven a vehicle drowsy in the past year, and 37% have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Why is drowsy driving a big deal?

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration modestly estimates that a minimum of 100,000 accidents per year are a result of drowsy driving, resulting in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12 billion in losses.
  • In 2009 alone, 730 fatal car crashes as well as more than 30,000 injury accidents were directly attributed to drowsy driving.
  • In addition to putting a person’s health and life at risk, driving sleepy can be costly between insurance deductibles, increases in premiums, lost wages and even state fines and jail time.
  • In Arkansas and New Jersey, the act of driving drowsy is a criminal offense. Several other states including Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington have also began introducing legislation to criminalize driving while tired according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Who is most at risk or most likely to drive drowsy?

  • Drivers who are under 25 are responsible for more than half of the fatal accidents that are attributed to drowsy driving, with males involved about 10% more often than females.
  • 71% of people aged 18-29 are likely to drive drowsy versus 19% of people over 65 according to NSF surveys.
  • Teens who sleep less than 8 hours per night experience 33% more accidents than those who get a full night’s rest.
  • Short sleepers are more likely to be drowsy drivers even if they “feel” well-rested.
  • The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that people sleeping 6-7 hours a night are twice as likely to be in a drowsy driving accident compared to those sleeping 8 or more hours, and people sleeping 5 hours or less are 4-5 times more likely to be in an accident.

Staying Safe

Driving under the influence of sleepiness  is a big problem in the U.S., and in many other countries as well. Much of this is related to the generally high prevalence of inadequate sleep among teens and adults, which has numerous effects on several aspects of our lives in addition to road safety. Preventing drowsy driving is as easy as getting more sleep and being more cognizant of the issue.

Drowsy Driving Prevention

The best way to prevent drowsy driving: sleep! Adults should be getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night, and teens should be getting a minimum of 9 hours of sleep. In addition to keeping you safe on the road, getting adequate rest also contributes to a sharper mind and a healthier body. Studies have linked chronic sleep loss to all sorts of problems, including increased risks of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, weaker immune systems, and many more things most of us would like to avoid.

  • Learn about healthy sleep hygiene practices to develop better habits, and educate kids on the importance of rest.
  • Discuss the dangers of drowsy driving with teens including the fact that it impairs their performance in a manner similar to that of drunk driving, and that accidents can be costly.
  • Most drowsy driving accidents occur between 2-6 am and 1-4 pm. During these times people typically experience more fatigue than during other times of the day, so be aware of others and yourself.
  • Know the signs of being too drowsy to drive. These include yawning, blinking, drifting across lanes, missed turns, feeling disoriented and losing track of where you are or not being able to remember the past few miles of driving. Call someone for a ride, pull over for a nap, or take public transportation home if possible.
  • If you aren’t getting enough sleep or wake feeling tired, consult with your doctor to see if underlying issues like sleep apnea or medications may be to blame.
  • If you see a fellow driver falling asleep at the wheel, drive with caution and alert authorities.

Another video from the National Road Safety Foundation called “Breakin’ Nite” (see link earlier in article) shows more important prevention tips, geared towards increasing awareness.

Tips for Staying Alert While Driving

Even when you have received adequate sleep it can be difficult at times to stay alert while driving during long trips. Other times, you simply may feel like you have no other choice but to drive tired. The following tips may help you stay more alert until you can stop and get some rest.

  • Pull over, get out and walk around for a few minutes every 2 hours or 100 miles.
  • Don’t rely on exercise, radio, or an open window to keep you awake.
  • Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks which will result in a “sugar crash” making you even more tired.
  • Avoid large, carbohydrate rich meals before getting on the road.
  • Caffeine can you give a *short* energy boost for a couple hours, but takes 20-30 minutes to work.
  • Alcohol will only make you more sleepy and more impaired.
  • Pay attention to and follow warnings on medication warning labels.
  • Consider driving with a passenger, and trade off driving duties.
  • If you find yourself nodding off, pull over and rest in a safe location ASAP.

Most importantly, get adequate sleep and know your own limitations before getting behind the wheel. There really is no substitution for rest, something that the CDC and several other foundations are stressing in public education campaigns. Most people know not to get behind the wheel when tipsy, but not everyone knows how dangerous it is to drive tired. Get educated, get aware, and tell your friends and family – don’t drive drowsy!

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