Drowsy drivers: Accidents waiting to happen


The dangers of using a cell phone or texting while behind the wheel have been in the news a lot lately. But fewer people are aware of another potentially deadly form of distraction -- drowsy driving.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths each year. But some experts believe drowsy driving accidents are underreported. A recent national survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 41 percent of all drivers admitted having fallen asleep at the wheel at some time, and 10 percent of those surveyed said it had happened in the past year.

National Highway Transportation Safety Administration studies show that drowsy driving accidents most often occur between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the mid-afternoon (older drivers are especially vulnerable during this time). Drivers at greatest risk for drowsy driving accidents include young people age 16 to 29 (especially males), shift workers (especially those who work nights or long or double shifts) and people with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy. People who take certain medications, such as antihistamine allergy medicines, also may be more likely to get sleepy as they drive.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, you shouldn't be driving if you display any of these warning signs:

  • Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open, yawning.
  • Daydreaming or losing concentration.
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or missing signs or exits.
  • Turning up the radio or rolling down the window to stay awake.

If you have any of these symptoms, it's time to take a break. Find a safe place to pull over for 15 or 20 minutes of shut-eye and try drinking some caffeine -- it does help, but don't rely on caffeine to keep you awake for hours at a time.

To avoid driving while drowsy, the National Sleep Foundation, AAA and Edmunds.com recommend the following safety tips:

  • Get a good night's sleep before you drive -- a minimum of six hours.
  • Drive during the time you normally would be awake, not when you usually would be sleeping.
  • Avoid any medication that has a drowsiness warning; read labels carefully.
  • Drive with a passenger who will stay awake and help keep you alert.
  • Take a break every two hours, or about every 120 miles. Get out of your vehicle, take a quick brisk walk, do some stretches and breathe deeply.
  • Drink some caffeine before you start your trip and at rest stops.
  • Skip the carbs, which can make you sleepy. Go for proteins instead.
  • Avoid alcohol before you plan to travel. Even if your blood alcohol level is under the legal limit, drinking can make you even sleepier.The bottom line: If you're feeling tired, stop driving. You may save your life and the lives of others -- and save some money as well. When you're alert and well-rested as you drive, you're more likely to avoid accidents and keep your auto insurance premiums lower.

The bottom line: If you're feeling tired, stop driving. You may save your life and the lives of others -- and save some money as well. When you're alert and well-rested as you drive, you're more likely to avoid accidents and keep your auto insurance premiums lower.

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