We can no longer ignore the problem of drowsy driving

Here are some statistics for you to think about:

100,000 = Police-reported crashes
71,000 = Injuries
1,550 = Deaths

Every year, these are the numbers directly related to driver fatigue in the US.

These statistics are alarming, but many people still don’t understand the risks of driving drowsy. Do you understand the risks of getting behind a steering wheel without a proper eight hours of rest? Here are answers to five common questions about driving while overtired that you may not have ever known the answers to.

How is drowsy driving defined?

Drowsy driving is the dangerous combination of driving while sleepy or sleep-deprived.

We all know what it feels like to be tired when driving, but if you wait to pull over until you are already nodding off, many times it’s too late. There are some important symptoms to be aware of which occur well before your eyes actually start to close. They include:

  • Vague, wandering thoughts
  • Feelings of irritability or impatience
  • Forgetting the last few miles
  • Speeding or driving too slowly
  • Eyes that won’t stay focused
  • A heavy head

Paying attention to these signs can save you from a life-threatening accident.

Who is most at risk for driving while drowsy?

Here are some startling statistics that might keep you awake at night.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America Poll, a whopping 60% of all adult drivers admit to having driven a vehicle in the last year while feeling drowsy. More than 30% say they have actually fallen asleep while driving. Of those who have fallen asleep, 13% admit doing so at least once a month.

The fact is, everyone is at risk for driving while drowsy. With our hectic lives, we don’t always get the amount of sleep our bodies need in order for it to function at its highest potential.

It is recommended that adults ages 18-65 get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but according to a 2013 Gallup poll, only 40% of Americans meet these recommendations. Most adults average only 6.8 hours of sleep at night, even though 43% of people believe they would feel better with more.

There are, however, people who are more prone to being overtired when getting behind the steering wheel. This includes someone who:

  • Has young children at home, especially newborns, and is getting interrupted sleep every night for a stretch of months of years.
  • Works a night shift, including nurses, police officers, air traffic controllers, taxi drivers, and bartenders.
  • Drives long distances such as truck drivers or road trippers.
  • Is taking certain medications prescribed for depression, high blood pressure, cough or head cold, allergies, and muscle pain.
  • Is under the influence of alcohol.

What are the personal risks of drowsy driving?

Stories abound of loved ones who were hurt or killed by either driving drowsy themselves or being a victim of someone else’s drowsy driving.

Katie Drentlaw was 18 years old when she fell asleep at the wheel. Her car crashed, killing her instantly.

Jeff Izer and his three friends pulled their overheated car to the shoulder lane of the freeway. Soon after, a truck driver who had fallen asleep hit and killed them.

Think of the feelings of loss a family feels when their loved one is killed. Think of the guilt you would forever feel if you were the one at fault for such a loss. The risk simply isn’t worth taking.

What are the financial risks of drowsy driving?

Even if someone isn’t killed from a drowsy-driving accident, there are still serious consequences which include the possibility of paying for damages done to vehicles and other property, increased insurance rates, a suspended or revoked driver’s license, a multi-million dollar lawsuit, and even jail time according to Bradley Corbett, a criminal defense attorney from San Diego.

When it comes to the law and drowsy-driving accidents, defending yourself in a reckless or negligent driving case can be difficult and it’s recommended that you seek the help of a lawyer.

They can possibly examine and present enough circumstantial evidence to get charges reduced from a reckless driving crime to a negligent driving civil traffic offense. However, even the consequences to a lesser charge can still be serious.

How can you prevent driving while drowsy?

Getting enough sleep at night is the most obvious answer to preventing drowsy driving. To increase the quality of your sleep time, darken your room as much as possible, cool it down, and invest in a quality mattress and pillow. Your body will thank you!

Most near misses or crashes take place between the following hours; therefore, try to avoid being on the road during these times:

  • 4:00am – 6:00am
  • Midnight – 2:00am
  • 2:00pm – 4:00pm

Pulling over to a safe area such as a rest stop or parking lot to take a nap is a great way to ward off fatigue. If you are on a long drive, take a break every two hours.

Team driving for long distances is always a good idea. Just make sure you are both awake and keeping aware.

Eating a healthy diet can go a long way to keeping your body feeling its best. Fruit, vegetables, and water are good road trip snacks. Salty and sugary foods and drinks (even coffee) may give you a quick energy fix but will soon sink you into low-energy mode as soon as the effect wears off.

Save yourself (and others) the risk. The answer is simple: don’t drive when drowsy.

Additional content by Bradley Corbett, San Diego criminal defense attorney.

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