The AAA Foundation recently released a survey finding that 41 percent of drivers admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel, one in 10 within the last year. The survey release coincided with Drowsy Driving Prevention Week which took place November 8-14. The public awareness campaign is designed to educate drivers, especially younger ones, about the dangers of drowsy driving and forms of prevention.

Teen drivers are a particular focus of the campaign. Fatigued driving is most common among young people who require the most sleep and often drive at night. Experts recommend that teens get 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night and adults get 7-9 hours.

Most people don’t make sleep a priority and consequently don’t get enough sleep. Dr. Michael Weissberg, of the Sleep Clinic at Boulder Community Hospital, explains that generally people “tolerate a huge degree of sleepiness.”

Frequency of Fatigue-Related Vehicle Accidents

Being sleep deprived translates into drowsy driving, a major cause of vehicle accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that over 100,000 crashes each year are caused by driver fatigue. Crashes caused by drowsy drivers result in 1,550 deaths and over 70,000 injuries every year.

These statistics may not even represent the whole picture because many experts believe drowsy driving is often not reported and estimates are too low. Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, explained, “That’s one of the reasons we took this [issue of fatigued driving] on. We have long suspected the true magnitude and scope of drowsy driving have been underreported.”

Often drivers do not realize the extent of their fatigue and continue to drive in an impaired condition. Sleepiness affects driving skills in a number of ways.

Impact of Drowsiness on Driving:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Decreased alertness and attention to signs, road changes and other vehicles
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making skills
  • Moodiness leading to aggressive driving
  • Impaired vision
  • “Microsleeps” (sleep episodes that last for less than a second)

Similar to alcohol, sleep loss impairs hand-eye coordination, decreases inhibition, and makes drivers less aware of their surroundings.

Common Characteristics of Drowsy Driving Vehicle Accidents

Drowsy driving accidents often occur between the hours of 12-6 a.m. This is the period of time when most people’s bodies have the greatest need for sleep. Often crashes involve a vehicle drifting off the road and hitting a stationary object. In contrast to alcohol-related accidents, there is often no evidence of a driver braking or performing evasive maneuvers

Risks and Warning Signs of Fatigued Driving

People most susceptible to drowsy driving are those who frequently drive long distances, don’t have passengers, and work long hours or evening shifts. If you notice that you are having difficulty focusing, or having trouble keeping your eyes open or your head up, you should immediately take appropriate countermeasures.

What to Do if You Become Sleepy Behind the Wheel:

  • If possible have a passenger take over
  • Stop driving, find a place where you can safely pull off the road and rest
  • Take a nap for 15-20 minutes (sleeping more than 20 minutes may cause increased grogginess)
  • Consume caffeine- drinking two cups of coffee can heighten alertness for a few hours (don’t rely on caffeine for long periods), but it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream
  • Consuming caffeine before a short nap can give you the benefits of both

Drowsy Driving Prevention

Rumble strips, which cause noise and vibration when a car veers off the edge of the road, are one way to alert fatigued drivers. Automakers are also designing more high-tech electronic systems that signal drivers they may be nodding off.

For example, Mercedes Benz is putting computers in some of its cars to monitor driver behavior. The 70-point check system for drowsy driving takes into account behaviors such as minor steering errors that are abruptly corrected, and how frequently a vehicle crosses in and out of lanes. If the computer senses the driver may be drowsy it will sound an alarm.

Hopefully, a combination of public awareness campaigns and preventive measures will serve to decrease the amount of drowsy driving crashes and fatalities.

If you are a car accident injury victim who has been injured as the result of drowsy driving or other driver negligence you should consult with a lawyer. An attorney can evaluate your potential claims and work to advance your interests.

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