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Drowsy Driving Crashes: Prevalent and Preventable

 

November 8, 2010

National Sleep Foundation Releases Safety Guidelines for Drowsy Driving Prevention Week®

Today kicks off Drowsy Driving Prevention Week®, a National Sleep Foundation public awareness campaign to educate drivers about sleep safety. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a new study showing that the tragedy of drowsy driving is more pervasive than shown in previous estimates. Their study shows that drowsy driving involves about one in six deadly crashes; one in eight crashes resulting in occupant hospitalization, and one in fourteen crashes in which a vehicle was towed. These percentages are substantially higher than most previous estimates, suggesting that the contribution of drowsy driving to motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths has not been fully appreciated.

"This should be a wake up call to our legislators and our elected representatives," says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. "Driving while drowsy seriously affects our safety on the road. More action and education are needed to combat this problem."

According to the Foundation's 2009 Sleep in America poll, about one-third (28%) of Americans admitted that they have fallen asleep behind the wheel within the past year, and more than half (54%) said they have driven while drowsy. The AAA Foundation study shows that more than a quarter of surveyed adults admitted they drove despite being so tired that they had difficulty keeping their eyes open in the previous month.

"It is shocking that so many people admit that they frequently drive in an incapacitated state," says Cloud. "The good news is that fatigue related crashes are preventable. The bad news is that there is a knowledge and awareness gap about the danger of driving when you're too sleepy. Many people think they can will themselves to stay awake no matter how tired they are, but science shows us that simply isn't true."

Sleepiness can impair drivers by causing slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment and delays in processing information. In fact, studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal limit in all states. It is also possible to fall into a 3-4 second microsleep without realizing it.

"Drowsy driving is a major traffic safety problem that, unfortunately, is largely unrecognized," said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. "We need to change the culture so that drivers recognize the dangers, appreciate the consequences and most importantly, stop driving while sleepy."

Feeling sleepy? Stop driving if you exhibit these warning signs.

The following warning signs indicate that it's time to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over and address your condition:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
  • Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
  • Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or aggressive.

Here’s what you can do to prevent a fall-asleep crash:

  • Get a good night's sleep before you hit the road. You'll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
  • Don't be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It's better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
  • Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue. Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.
  • Take a nap—find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
  • Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
  • Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
  • Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.

For more information about drowsy driving, visit the National Sleep Foundation's drowsy driving website at www.DrowsyDriving.org.

About the Center for Sleep Medicine at Saint Clare’s Health System
The Center for Sleep Medicine at Saint Clare’s Hospital is northwest New Jersey’s leader in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders. Accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and staffed by physicians who are board certified in sleep medicine, the Center provides advanced clinical care for patients with a wide variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, and more. To reach the Center for Sleep Medicine at Saint Clare’s Hospital, please visit www.saintclares.org or call 1-866-STCLARE (1-866-782-5273).

Drowsy Driving Prevention Week®
In an effort to reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes and to save lives, the National Sleep Foundation is declaring November 8-14, 2010 to be Drowsy Driving Prevention Week®. This annual campaign provides public education about the under-reported risks of driving while drowsy and countermeasures to improve safety on the road.

About the National Sleep Foundation
The National Sleep Foundation is dedicated to improving sleep health and safety through education, public awareness and advocacy. It is well-known for its annual Sleep in America poll. The Foundation is a charitable, educational and scientific not-for-profit organization located in Washington, DC. Its membership includes researchers and clinicians focused on sleep medicine, professionals in the health, medical and science fields, individuals, patients, families affected by drowsy driving and more than 900 healthcare facilities throughout North America. Please visit www.sleepfoundation.org for more information.

 

 

 
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