Drowsy Driving Prevention Week: November 3-10, 2019
Driving is dangerous, so it’s imperative that you be alert and aware anytime you get behind the wheel. Sleepy or drowsy drivers make an alarming number of mistakes—some tests show that driving drowsy is just as bad as driving drunk—and more people drive drowsy than you might realize.
An estimated 1 in 25 drivers over the age of 18 have reported having fallen asleep while driving in the last 30 days alone, and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year. While getting behind the wheel may be dangerous after a night of bad sleep, Driving Drowsy Prevention Week inspired us to share some tips so you can avoid making this mistake on the roads.
Drowsy Driving = Dangerous Driving
There are many reasons why people may be drowsy before they get in their car: a bad night’s sleep, crying baby, sick children, potty-training a puppy. The list is endless. But the reality is that getting behind the wheel when you’re tired results in dangerous driving, decreased focus on the road, slowed reaction times, and poor decision making skills. All of these problems threaten you on the road every time you choose to drive drowsy, even if you think you’re okay.
Fatigue can prevent you from effectively anticipating the behaviors of those driving around you, pedestrians, and distractions in your own vehicle, like music or conversations. Plus, slowed reaction times make you less capable of avoiding accidents on the road and even in your neighborhood. All of these risks can be summed up by the ultimate risk of exercising poor judgement on the road—as well as poor decisions made before you even get in your car.
Signs You May Be Drowsy
When you’re getting ready to drive, or perhaps even already on the road, you need to be aware of these tell-tale signs of fatigue and drowsiness:
- Drifting in and out of your lane
- Yawning and/or blinking frequently
- Difficulty remembering or recalling the last few miles of driving
- Missing an exit or road signs
- Unable to maintain a consistent speed
- Trouble keeping your eyes open
- Hitting a rumble strip on the roadside
If you notice yourself exhibiting any of these signs, it is imperative that you exit the road as soon as possible. If necessary, you should pull off to the side and sleep for a bit until you are rested enough to drive safely.
Reasons You May Be Drowsy
Regardless of what may be causing your daytime sleepiness, all of these drowsy driving risks are 100% curable. There are dozens of reasons to ensure you get quality, restorative sleep every night, but driving safely on the roads should be number one on all of our lists.
If you think your daytime fatigue is due to poor sleeping habits, there are a few easy ways to try and fix that. Step one is practicing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a set of repeated behaviors before bed that encourage a rejuvenative night’s sleep. Here are a few rules to follow:
- Wake up at the same time everyday
- Do not nap for more than 15 minutes at a time
- Exercise early in the day, not before bed
- Don’t consume caffeine in the later afternoon or evening
- Don’t drink alcohol before bedtime to stave off “rebound insomnia”
- Develop a bedtime routine to signal to yourself that it’s time to get ready for sleep
- Don’t include TVs, phones or computers in this routine if at all possible
If you observe these rules and get a full night’s sleep—adults between 18-64 should be getting between 7 to 9 hours per night—then you may be at risk for a sleep disorder known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA.
OSA is listed as one of the leading causes of excessive daytime fatigue, but it’s estimated that about 80% of OSA cases go undiagnosed, so sufferers may be unaware that their fatigue is the result of a very treatable condition. In fact, the results of a recent study found that patients with sleep apnea were almost 2.5X more likely to be the driver in a car accident when compared with a control group of drivers in the normal population.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, you will need to get a sleep study to determine if this is really the case. Home sleep tests can be an excellent option for those who believe they suffer from this disorder because they allow you to get the answers you need from the comfort of home, at a lower cost.
The most effective treatment options for OSA are continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment or automatic positive airway pressure (AutoPAP) treatment. Both of these treatments require a prescription which you can obtain after having sleep test results analyzed by a board certified sleep physician.
Steps We Can All Take
Making the roads safer is a goal we can all agree on, so do away with the risks of fatigued driving and start getting the high-quality sleep we all need to be healthy. But, regardless of whether or not your fatigue is caused by OSA, there are some easy things we can all do in order to make the roads safer:
- Take restful breaks during long trips on the road, about every 2 hours or 100 miles.
- Use the buddy system. Being able to share the driving responsibilities helps reduce your chances of driving while tired.
- Avoid consuming alcohol or taking medications that may cause drowsiness.
- Increase alertness by consuming caffeine while avoid drinks and snacks that could cause a sugar crash.
- Avoid driving late at night.
- Call a friend, Uber, or Lyft for a ride after a late/early shift at work.
Did You Know?
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving is related to at least 100,000 motor-vehicle crashes and more than 1,500 deaths per year.
Drowsy driving crashes occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late afternoon. At both times of the day, people experience dips in their circadian rhythm—the human body’s internal clock that regulates sleep.
Driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08%—the U.S. legal limit.
The beginning of daylight savings is linked to an increase in auto accidents, according to a study by researchers at John Hopkins and Stanford University.
It’s imperative that you take all the necessary steps to ensure you are safe on the roads, and sleep is an important part of vehicular safety. Make sure that you are getting regular, restorative sleep and be sure to consult your physician if you believe there may be medical reasons for your daytime drowsiness.