Responsible people don’t get behind the wheel when they have had too much to drink, yet they may not think twice about driving when they have had too little sleep. Unfortunately, these drowsy drivers put themselves and others at risk when they take to our streets and highways. Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, which takes place November 4-11, was started to call attention to this dangerous driving habit. According to the National Sleep Foundation, which sponsors this annual public awareness campaign, 70 million people in the United States are sleep deprived or have sleep disorders and 50 percent of people admit to regularly getting behind the wheel when they are sleepy. Even more frightening for all of us on the nation’s roads, 40 percent of those who say they drive while drowsy have actually fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once in their lives.
Crashes Involving Drowsy Driving
Every year 100,000 vehicle crashes that are reported to police involve drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The actual number of accidents that involve sleep-deprived drivers may be much higher than this number, however, because accidents are not always reported to police; even when they are, it is often difficult to determine whether driver drowsiness played a role. A recent study performed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that the number of drowsy driving crashes that occur annually is actually well over 300,000.
The NHTSA data shows that the police-reported crashes result in over 1,500 fatalities and 70,000 injuries each year. Again the AAA Foundation stats are higher, with estimates of 6,400 fatalities and more than 100,000 injuries annually. In any case, even one death caused by drowsy driving is one too many.
Signs of Drowsy Driving
Fatigue and tiredness can sometimes be difficult for drivers to recognize. In addition to the most obvious and dangerous signal that a person is too tired to drive, which is falling asleep behind the wheel, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says the following are signs that a person is too tired to drive:
- Drifting in and out of traffic lanes
- Difficulty maintaining a consistent speed
- Forgetting the last few miles driven
- Missing road signs and turnoffs
- Yawning frequently or difficulty keeping eyes open
- Nodding off or having trouble keeping head up.
Don’t Be Asleep at the Wheel
Here are some practical safety tips for staying awake and alert while driving:
- Most importantly, get enough sleep at night. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least 7 hours of zzzz’s nightly for adults. For young adults and teenagers, 9 or more hours may be appropriate. The statistics show that approximately 50 percent of drowsy driving crashes involve people under age 25, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
- Avoid medications that cause drowsiness. If you are taking a prescription medication, speak to your pharmacist about side effects. Read labels for any non-prescription medications you take to see if they cause drowsiness.
- Avoid heavy foods. A stomach full of heavy foods can make you want to doze. Eat lighter, healthy foods, especially on long car trips.
- Take a clue from cats. Cats take short and frequent naps that keep them energized. If you feel sleepy behind the wheel, look for a rest stop or other safe place to pull over and take a 20-30 minute catnap.
- Schedule regular breaks into long trips. Stop every 100 miles or so and take a break. Get out of the car, stretch your legs and breathe in fresh air.
- Travel with a partner. Take turns driving and resting or sleeping.
Statistics show that fatigued drivers are three time more likely to be in a car crash than drivers who are rested. Don’t hurt yourself or others by driving when you are drowsy. And if you are the unfortunate victim of a drowsy driver, consider legal help to get the compensation you deserve because of the irresponsible actions of another person.
We Are Here to Help
At the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler, we have devoted our practice to defending the rights of car crash victims. We know how traumatic a serious auto accident can be for both the injured person and for his or her family. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car crash, you may be entitled to financial compensation, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – for filing personal injury claims. If you have been injured in an accident caused by drowsy driving or some other negligent action, don’t delay. Call Steve today for a free initial consultation, or use our convenient and confidential online form.