While drunk driving and distracted driving grab most of the headlines, new research shows that drowsy driving may be even more deadly than previously estimated.
According to the latest survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 96 percent of Americans say drowsy driving is unacceptable behavior, yet nearly one-third admit to driving during the past month while they were so sleepy they couldn’t keep their eyes open.
The frightening finding comes just in advance of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, November 6-12, hosted by the National Sleep Foundation.
This comes on the heels of last year’s AAA Foundation study, Asleep At The Wheel, which found that nearly one in six fatal crashes, one in eight crashes involving serious injury, and one in 14 of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed involved drowsy driving.
Drowsy driving isn’t anything to take lightly, as Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research points out, referring to Foundation findings that two out of five drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel at some point, and one in 10 saying they’d done so in the past year. “What’s so alarming is that over half of these drivers reported having fallen asleep while driving on high-speed roads,” said Nelson.
The 2010 study further found that 57 percent of the drowsy driving crashes involved the driver drifting into other lanes or going off the road, two out of three drivers involved in drowsy driving crashes were men, and younger drivers ages 16 to 24 were nearly twice as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash as drivers ages 40 to 59.
Watch out for these drowsy driving warning signs
The AAA Foundation and the National Sleep Foundation have some good advice for drivers of all ages when it comes to being able to recognize the signs and prevent drowsy driving.
You could be at risk for drowsy driving if any of the following occur:
- You have trouble keeping your eyes open and focused.
- You find yourself drifting from your lane or tailgating.
- You frequently yawn or repeatedly rub your eyes.
- You can’t keep your head up.
- You find yourself daydreaming or having disconnected thoughts.
- You miss signs or drive past your intended exit.
- You drift off the road and hit the rumble strips.
- You are unable to remember how far you have traveled or what landmarks or locations you have recently passed.
- You feel restless and irritable.
Keep in mind that you don’t always recognize when you are sleepy. You might feel perfectly fine but you could still fall asleep at any time. It’s also not true that you can tell when you’re about to fall asleep or that just gulping coffee or caffeinated drinks will wake you up. If you do pull off the road to have some coffee, you have to allow 30 minutes for it to enter your bloodstream, and the effects only last about three hours. You could be drinking coffee at the wheel and still have “micro-sleeps,” tiny naps lasting just seconds. But if you are traveling at 65 miles per hour, you can travel more than 100 yards in three seconds. That’s long enough to crash.
This story originally appeared in the Family Car Guide.