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Driving Drowsy

One in 20 Americans has caused and accident by driving drowsy. 1 Drowsy driving is the second leading cause of automobile accidents. The first is drunkenness. 1 Driving drowsy slows reaction times and reduces alertness.

Driving without the adequate amount of sleep is not only extremely dangerous to yourself, but you also put all other drivers on the road in jeopardy.

Truck drivers are amongst some of the most sleep deprived shift workers. The legal limit for driving time for commercial drivers is 10 hours at a time. 2 Because of the high stress level and irregular schedule of the profession, commercial drivers should make an effort to get a good night’s sleep on a comfortable mattress for a decent amount of time.

Risk Factors

  • Alcohol is a major risk factor in driving. One drink on six hours of sleep is the equivalent to six drinks on eight hours of sleep. 1
  • Driving alone is dangerous because it puts all driving on one person and makes car rides more monotonous.
  • Monotonous roads make it difficult to stay engaged in driving and can “hypnotize” the driver.
  • Excessive work hours can cause individuals to be extremely deprived of sleep, making driving a very dangerous task.
  • Untreated sleep disorders such as sleep apnea can cause fragmented sleep and daytime drowsiness. Avoid driving long periods of time while sleep deprived. Sleep apnea can increase the chances of falling asleep at the wheel 300 to 700 percent. 3
  • Medication that causes drowsiness such as cold or allergy medication can impair alertness and make driving very difficult.

Combating Drowsy Driving

  • Regardless of your destination, getting somewhere in a hurry is not worth your or someone else’s life. If feeling drowsy pull off the road at a rest stop or gas station and take a nap. A 15 to 20 minute nap at a well lit buys gas station or rest area is safest, especially if traveling at night.
  • Once you have rested your eyes, get some caffeine such as coffee or an energy drink and engage in physical activity such as a brief walk.
  • Do not start driving again until you feel refreshed.

Preventing Drowsy Driving

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before you begin a long road trip.
  • Do not begin a road trip during the “midday slump” or in the evening.
  • Do not plan to drive for more than 10 hours.
  • Plan to stay overnight if your trip requires you to drive at night time.
  • Plan for traffic and unpredictable delays by allowing extra time for your trip.
  • Plan to stop every 100 miles or so at a gas station or rest stop. Be sure to stretch your legs and move around. Be sure to get snacks or drinks at stops to keep energized.
  • Plan to drive with someone else. Sharing the driving can take a lot of the stress off the driver and make the drive less monotonous.
  • Drive during times you are usually awake. Darkness triggers melatonin production in the brain which can cause drowsiness.
  • Make the car environment somewhat uncomfortable. Keep the air cool and the music louder and more upbeat. Soft music can lull you to sleep.
  • Do not drive if you have untreated sleep disorders.

Most people underestimate the power sleep deprivation can have on their ability to drive and attempt to simply drive through or speed up to get to our destination quicker. (I know I’m guilty of this). With driving being as unpredictable as it is because of other drivers, weather and car functions, any lack in alertness can contribute to potentially fatal accidents.

Driving drowsy is a very serious problem in America resulting in an estimated 100,000 police-reported crashes, 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than $1.2 billion in monetary losses. 2

Bibliography:

1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. The American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety—Drowsy Driving FAQ’s; http://www.aaafoundation.org/resources/index.cfm?button=drowsyfaq

3. National Sleep Foundation—Drowsy Driving Prevention Video; http://www.sleepfoundation.org/video/heads-the-wheel-drowsy-driving-prevention