Drowsy driving is dangerous no matter where you’re going or how long you’ll be on the road. This holds true for experienced drivers as much as it does for any other drivers.
Your brain’s ability to function is impaired when you’re drowsy. Driving presents hazards that often require split-second reactions. When you’re tired, you might be off by a split-second. That could mean the difference between a near miss and a serious crash.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Large Truck Causation Study determined that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers involved in crashed in 2001-2003 were considered to be fatigued. FMCSA said driver alertness was linked more to “time of day” than “time on task” and the agency warned drivers about two time periods when a person’s body becomes naturally drowsy: midnight to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
FMCSA offers six tips to help truck drivers avoid drowsy driving:
- Get adequate sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Take naps.
- Don’t take medication that causes drowsiness
- Learn the signs of drowsiness
- Don’t rely on “alertness tricks” such as turning up the radio or opening a window
Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has said that driver fatigue may contribute to more than 100,00 crashes per year. Fatality estimates range from 1,000 a year to more than 6,000 a year depending on the research project. Exact figures are not clear because drowsiness is hard to quantify and often goes unreported.
Regardless, the numbers are “staggering,” said Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and chairman of the National Sleep Foundation. “The data are really quite compelling,” Czeisler said. “It’s just as such a barometer of the extent to which we are sleep-deprived as a nation.”
Dr. Emerson Wickwire is the assistant professor and director of the Insomnia Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Wickwire pointed to research that indicated people who do not sleep for 24 consecutive hours show cognitive impairment that mirrors a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 – above the legal limit for driving in many states.
“The worst part is that there is no objective test of drowsiness, and humans are notoriously poor at recognizing their own fatigue-related impairment,” Wickwire said. “Multiple scientific studies show significant dis-ordinance between self-ratings of sleepiness and objective performance impairment. “In other words, drowsy drivers think they are ‘just fine,’ but in reality their alertness and reaction speed might be greatly diminished.”
Several Behaviors indicate warning signs of drowsy driving. According to the National Safety Council, behaviors include:
- Trouble focusing and keeping your eyes open
- Difficulty keeping your head up
- Inability to stop yawning
- Not remembering the past few miles traveled
- Drifting from your lane and hitting rumble-strip
- Intermittently speeding up or slowing down
- Missing an exit, experiencing wandering thoughts
If you notice signs of drowsiness while driving, take action. Find a safe place to stop – not the side of the highway – and take a nap, if necessary.
“There are three reasons drivers are drowsy behind the wheel: quantity of sleep, quality of sleep and timing of sleep,” Wickwire said.
-The National Safety Council; Traffic Safety (Oct.2015)