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According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sleepy drivers cause approximately 56,000 accidents each year, resulting in 40,000 injuries, 1,550 deaths, and $12 million in costs of damages and injuries. The numbers have become so eye-grabbing that the NHTSA now places this road danger on par with drunken drivers.
The crux of this problem is that drowsy-driving accidents tend to be more severe than drunk-driving accidents. Most drowsy-driving mishaps occur at high speeds, and because the driver is asleep, no evasive measures―braking or steering―occur before impact.
It has been difficult to curtail this problem. Unlike drinking, the manifestations of drowsiness border on innocuous. If you spot a friend yawning in the afternoon, you're not going to suggest, "Hey Carl, you look sleepy. Why don't you take a nap in my desk chair before driving home?" Nor are you going to call a state trooper to report a driver drinking a high-caffeine soft drink. The burden of this problem falls on individual drivers and their ability to recognize the danger signs.
Age plays a big factor. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), drivers between the ages of 18 and 25 are most susceptible to car nodding. The combination of work, studying, and late-night party circuits can make it hard to get a good night's sleep. But this does not mean drivers older than 25 are immune. Drowsy driving affects all drivers, especially during certain time periods.
How to Avoid Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Studies state that the most likely times for nodding off to occur are:
- Late at night, between midnight and dawn.
- Early afternoon, when the body is digesting lunch.
If you can't avoid driving, especially long distance, during these two danger periods, then pay close attention to your body. Excessive yawning and heavy eyes are strong indicators that the Sand Man has cometh. Another obvious sign is slowing down or drifting into other lanes.
Should you begin dozing behind the wheel, the NIH has these tips:
- Make frequent rest stops. Get out of your vehicle. Walk around. Fill the lungs with fresh air. Or take a nap. 20 minutes out of your day is preferable to crashing.
- Rotate driving duties.
Or, even better, before getting into a car, you can bolster your road fatigue defenses by:
- Getting a good night's sleep. Delay long-distance driving until the next day.
- If you know you have or suspect you have a medical condition, like sleep apnea, get it treated. This makes you more susceptible to daytime sleepiness.
- Refrain from driving between midnight and dawn.
- Understand what effects allergy or cold medications will have on your system.
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