Have you ever driven home so late at night that you are having a hard time staying awake while driving where your head starts to nod back and forth and your eyes veer from the street? If so, you’re not alone as this dangerous trend is causing injuries and deaths in every neighborhood and city across America. In an effort to raise awareness for fatigue-related driving accidents, the National Sleep Foundation is hosting their annual week of education initiatives from November 3-10, 2013 entitled DrowsyDriving Prevention Week. Held every year, this campaign seeks to educate motorists on the dangers and risks associated with driving while sleepy and put safety first for the sake of you and every driver and passenger on the road.

If you ever find yourself sleepy behind the wheel, it is imperative that you pull over and stop driving. It is far better to be late for an appointment than to risk your life and other motorists around you by driving in an unsafe manner. Considering that nearly 40% of Americans have stated that they rarely get a full night of sleep, it is no surprise that sleep deprivation causes hundreds of accidents every year. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60% of all adult American drivers have admitted to driving while drowsy and a whopping 38% or roughly 105 million people have actually fallen asleep behind the wheel.

Anytime you start feeling any of the following symptoms it is time to pull over and find a place to sleep:

  • Inability to keep your head up
  • Inability to focus on objects in front of you or frequent blinking
  • Swerving in and out of other lanes or following other vehicles too closely
  • Finding yourself drifting into daydreams or other imaginations
  • Lack or recognition for where you are forgetting the last few miles that have been driven
  • Frequent yawning and muscle fatigue

Because there is no test for determining drowsiness, it can be difficult for a police officer or even a driver to determine whether or not they are too tired to drive. Determining the type of person whom is most likely to drive while drowsy is difficult; however, studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority have shown that young adults between the ages of 18-29 are more likely drive while sleepy than any other age group. Additionally men, shift workers and those with young children are considered to be a greater risk for driving while drowsy. Fatigued drivers display many of the same warning signs and risks that are associated with drunk drivers including slow reaction times, blurred vision, failure to obey traffic signs and poor judgment. Studies have shown that being awake for more than 20 hours results in similar impairment of having a blood alcohol level of .08, which is the legal limit in many states.

Below are some of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of driving while drowsy:

  • Prior to taking a road trip, always get a good night of 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep
  • It is better to be late to your destination than to not arrive at all. Instead of leaving late at night or opting to not take breaks to avoid traffic, leave early in the morning after a restful sleep
  • Always have a friend with you during a long ride. This person will be responsible for staying awake during the entire trip and watching the driver for any signs of impairment.
  • Experts suggest that drivers should take a break every 2 hours or 100 miles. During this break it is important to stretch your legs, move around and eat some food.
  • Never drink alcohol or take any medications that induce drowsiness before driving
  • Drink caffeine – 2 cups of coffee equals two hours of being alert

Remember to always be safe and make smart decisions while driving. More information is available at the National Sleep Foundation’s website and by taking a defensive driving or traffic school course.  These courses provide information not only about the dangers of drowsy driving, but also reminds students that driving when feeling emotional, angry, or impaired in any way all mimic the behaviors of drunk driving which puts you, your passengers and other motorists on the road at great risk.

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