The AAA Foundation estimates that about one in six deadly crashes involves a drowsy driver and the National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week is meant to call attention to the dangers of driving while drowsy.
The NSF says new data shows that 96 percent of Americans feel it’s unacceptable for someone to drive when they are so sleepy they have trouble keeping their eyes open, yet about one-third of Americans admitted doing so in the past 30 days.
“People know that they shouldn’t text or drink when they drive, and that’s great,” says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. “However, many don’t realize that driving while drowsy is also very dangerous. If you’re so tired that you can hardly keep your eyes open, you could fall asleep for just a few seconds and not realize it. If that happens at 65 miles an hour, you could drive the length of a football field in an unconscious state.”
The NSF’s 2011 Sleep in America poll found that about one in ten 16-45 year old drivers report driving drowsy once or twice a week.
NSF says the following warning signs indicate that it’s time to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over and address your condition:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
- Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
- Trouble 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 exits or traffic signs
- Yawning repeatedly
- Feeling restless, irritable, or aggressive
Here’s what you can do to prevent a fall-asleep crash:
- Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
- Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It’s better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
- Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
- Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.
- Take a nap—find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.