As this is the National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, the NSF is asking drivers to take a pledge against drowsy driving. The foundation is also urging state legislators to take a stand against drowsy driving in their states, an NSF press release says.
NSF reports that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving causes an estimated 100,000 police-reported car accidents annually in the U.S., including more than 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries. Half of American adults consistently report having driven while drowsy, with 20% of those surveyed saying they have fallen asleep at the wheel in the previous year, NSF writes on DrowsyDriving.org.
Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury, and needs to be a regular part of everyone’s schedule, DrowsyDriving.org writes. “Experts recommend 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep for teens and many young adults, and 7-9 hours for adults,” NSF writes, noting that sleep is as important to our well-being as food and water, although many people make it last on their list of priorities.
NSF provides the following warning signs to know that you are drowsy while driving:
● Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open or your head up
● Yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly
● Daydreaming and wandering thoughts
● Drifting from your lane, tailgating and missing signs or exits
● Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive
● Turning up the radio or rolling down the window
● Slower reaction time, poor judgment
Although all drivers are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel, some groups are at greater risk, NFS writes. Those include younger drivers, especially males ages 16-25, who tend to drive at night; shift workers and those working long hours or more than one job; commercial drivers, especially those who drive long distances and at night; people with untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) or insomnia; and business travelers, who might have crossed time zones and have jet lag. Commercial drivers are at higher risk for sleep disorders, and people with untreated OSA are up to seven times more likely to have a drowsy driving-related crash, NSF writes.
The foundation writes that if you experience any of the signs that you are drowsy while driving, you need to pull into a safe place right away and take a nap, or switch drivers if you have passengers who can take the wheel. You could also stop for two cups of regular (not decaf) coffee, or find a place to sleep for the night, NSF writes.
It is best to prevent drowsy driving in the first place by getting a good night’s sleep before a long drive, NSF writes. It is also important not to drive if you are taking any medications that could cause drowsiness. You can find the information on labels or ask your pharmacist or doctor. The foundation cautions that drivers who are feeling tired should not drink even a small amount of alcohol. Also, do not rely on an open window or the radio to stay awake while driving, the foundation writes. Lastly, always wear your seat belt.
The National Sleep Foundation provides a free online toolkit to help you design your own awareness programs to avoid drowsy driving. It contains links to the NSF’s model drowsy driving legislation, an advocacy action plan, a fact sheet, a “state of the states” chart, and state transportation committee contact information.
For example, the chart shows that Colorado has no drowsy driving laws. If a drowsy driver has a crash, that driver would be charged with careless driving, according to the chart. Colorado offers no training to police on the subject of fatigue, and drowsy driving information is not mandated in the state’s driver education, the chart says. In addition, Colorado does not limit driver’s licenses according to sleep disorders, whereas some states, such as Florida, do.
The foundation’s online drowsy driving kit also provides links to sample letters you can send to state legislators, and to editors and media sources, as well as a congressional contract form. You will also find links to reports from AAA, NHTSA, and the CDC that illustrate how drowsy driving affects the country.