According to a new government survey, it’s not just drunk drivers and texting behind the wheel that you need to be wary of on the road; 1 in 25 drivers said they had fallen asleep at the wheel in the past month.
Numbers from the AAA Foundation for Safety, estimate that as many as 7500 fatal motor vehicle accidents in the US may be caused by drowsy driving each year. Many of these are single car crashes. The survey, which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), found those most at risk for having accidents while driving drowsy are those under 25, males, binge drinkers, people who don’t wear seat belts, those with sleep problems, and, somewhat obviously, those who regularly sleep less than five hours a night.
Study authors point to increasing commute times as well as a higher prevalence of sleep apnea due to obesity as possible causes for growing numbers of drowsy drivers. Lead study author, Anne Wheaton, a CDC epidemiologist, noted that you don’t need to actually fall asleep at the wheel to be a danger to yourself and others. Driving drowsy can lead to decreased reaction time, less attention to environment and impaired decision-making skills—all of which can contribute to vehicle crashes. Sadly, fatalities and injuries are more likely to occur from drowsy driver accidents than non-drowsy driver accidents.
Prevent drowsy driving before getting behind the wheel by ensuring proper sleep amounts. The National Institutes of Health recommend adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per day while adolescents need 9 or 10 hours. If you have a sleep disorder such as apnea or insomnia, seek treatment. And most definitely refrain from drinking alcohol or taking sedative medication prior to driving. There are warning signs of drowsy driving including:
- Yawning or blinking frequently.
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven.
- Missing your exit.
- Drifting from your lane.
- Hitting a rumble strip.
Study authors suggest that if you experience any of the above symptoms, you pull over and rest. Opening the windows, blasting the air conditioning or playing loud music have not proven effective in mitigating the symptoms of drowsy driving. Your body is telling you that you need sleep, so pay attention. It could save your life or someone else’s.