Many years ago, a young fellow who I was great friends with was on a run to fix a truck up north. He called his wife on his way back to tell her that he would be home in about four or five hours. Well, it wasn’t long before she got word that he had fallen asleep while driving, gone over an embankment and sustained fatal injuries.
Since then, I have heard dozens more drowsy driving stories, not from strangers, but from people I know. I have also been a victim of drowsy driving, waking up a few times in the past to the sound of slinging gravel. Once I actually woke up to the bright lights of a semi, and if that doesn’t scare the tar out of you, nothing will.
In short, drowsy driving is a major problem. Experts estimate that the cost of automobile accidents related to sleep issues is somewhere between $29.2 to $37.9 billion annually. In a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration survey, 60% of the 4,010 respondents admitted to falling asleep while driving on an interstate-type highway with posted speeds of 55 mph or higher. Nearly half of those respondents reported nodding off between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and/or 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
So, while it’s distracted driving that gets most of the public’s attention these days, there also needs to be a focus on drowsy driving – yet there is very limited understanding of what it is, its warning signs and how to prevent falling asleep at the wheel. That’s especially concerning because in construction, up to 75% of employees may drive long distances during the course of their work.
Despite the difficulty in establishing that drowsy driving contributed to an accident, certain crash characteristics can indicate that it was a factor. These include no skid marks at the scene; the accident happened late at night, early in the morning or in the midafternoon; only the driver was in the vehicle; and the accident occurred on a relatively narrow, straight road such as a two-lane highway, long country road or suburban road.
Given that drowsy driving is such a widespread hazard, following are some important things to know and do to help keep you – and other motorists – safe on the roads:
There also are a few things you should know about what doesn’t help to wake us up. Be aware that doing any of the following will not necessarily lessen your drowsiness: opening a window, eating, having a conversation, turning on the heater or air conditioner, switching a light on inside the vehicle or playing loud music.
So, what are some strategies to help prevent a drowsy driving incident? Here are several to commit to memory:
In closing, don’t tempt fate. If you’re feeling drowsy, or if you’ve been on the road for a while without a break, pull over at the first safe spot and get some rest. There is no other remedy for drowsiness. Yes, your arrival at your destination might be delayed, but better late than never. Your family, friends and co-workers are counting on you to make the right call.
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