“Drowsy driving is a significant cause of traffic crashes, with fatigue a factor in more than 100,000 crashes every year," says David Reich of the National Road Safety Foundation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fatigue-related crashes result in at least 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses each year.
Drowsy driving crashes often result in serious injuries. They often involve a single vehicle leaving the roadway, where the dozing driver does not attempt to take corrective action to avoid a crash. "Drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, in terms of the risk of serious injury or death to the driver and passengers,” adds Reich.
Studies show more than 60 percent of U.S. motorists have driven while fatigued, and nearly 37 percent admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel. At highway speeds, a driver who dozes for only four or five seconds can travel more than the length of a football field, crossing into oncoming traffic or off the road and into a tree.
Drowsy driving is especially prevalent among teens, who tend to keep late hours and think they can function on minimal sleep. Teens actually require more sleep than adults, experts say.
The National Road Safety Foundation urges drivers to be alert to these signs of drowsiness while driving:
Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, rubbing eyes
Daydreaming or not remembering the last few miles driven
Head snaps and yawning
Drifting out of your lane, tailgating or hitting rumble strips
If you experience any of these warning signs, pull over safely and take a break. Have a cup of coffee or a caffeinated snack or take a 20-minute nap. Allow 30 minutes for caffeine to enter your bloodstream. Never drink alcohol before driving and know if any medications you take might induce drowsiness.
"Don't try to tough it out," says Reich. "Fatigue can force you into 'micro-sleeps' lasting several seconds, which can have devastating results. We've seen too many examples of people trying to make it those last few miles, only to crash down the block from home."
The National Road Safety Foundation, celebrating 50 years, has produced films and teaching materials that have been used to train millions of young drivers about the dangers of drinking and driving, speeding, aggressive driving and distracted driving. To download or receive a free copy of the Foundation’s program on drowsy driving, "Almost Home," and other free driver education programs dealing with distracted driving, drinking and driving and other topics, visit the NRSF website at www.nrsf.org.
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