By Logan Quirk
Don’t Text and Drive. Don’t Drink and Drive. We know that. Well Don’t Drive while drowsy.
A report prepared by the National Safety Council (NSC) reveals growing numbers of drivers, especially younger ones, confess to driving while struggling to stay awake. Appearing in NCS’s Journal of Safety Research, the report says, among all respondents to a large national telephone survey, 28% admitted they had driven during the past 30 days while seriously fatigued.
Among younger drivers, the percentage rose; one in three drivers in the 19-24 age group admitted having driven while sleep-deprived at some time during the past month. In contrast, both the very oldest (75 and above) and youngest (ages 16-18) drivers reported the lowest rate of sleep-deprived driving in the past month, with just 22% of those age groups reporting recent drowsy driving.
Safety officials are concerned that too few drivers recognize fatigued driving’s dangers. The president and CEO of the NSC has exhorted all drivers to recognize the “dangers of driving while tired.” An AAA study found drivers deprived of sleep are involved in slightly more than one of every six fatal auto crashes, and in about one in every eight crashes that result in hospitalization. One economic analysis, made 20 years ago, put the cost then of auto accidents linked to driver drowsiness at somewhere between $29.2 billion and $37.9 billion.
Lack of Sleep Deprives you faster reaction times
To understand why drivers yawning behind the wheel pose such a hazard to themselves and others, consider experimental simulations of car-handling skills have shown drowsy drivers perform about as poorly as do those distracted by devices or impaired by alcohol or drugs. Sleep-impaired drivers have similar slower reaction times, lower visual acuity, and poorer decision-making. They also commit the same kind of operating mistakes, like drifting out of lane. Sleep deprivation also boosts the effect of even small amounts of alcohol consumed.
Ironically, though, even though most drivers recognize drunk driving as unacceptable, attitude surveys show many drivers — again, especially younger ones — see little or no problem with sleepy driving, even though both types of behavior pose similar risks.
Another study, done by researchers at the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found drivers who estimate they get a daily average of six hours’ sleep or less are nearly twice as likely to report they have driven while drowsy in the past month, compared with drivers averaging seven or more hours of daily shut-eye. Even drivers claiming their average less-than-seven hours of sleep was sufficient for their needs turned out to be roughly three times more likely than better-rested drivers to report recent drowsy driving.
Because there’s no real substitute for adequate rest, drowsy driving is a real public health hazard. So if you’re driving, especially over long distances or at night, and find you’re having difficulty focusing your vision or thoughts, act to reduce chances you’ll become a statistic.
You might pull over, and find a safe place to catch a few winks. To keep alert, you could grab a cup of coffee (but realize it will take about 30 minutes for the caffeine to kick in). Even better, schedule your travel for times when you’re caught up on your sleep, take a break every few hours, share driving chores — and don’t try to test your limits.