For too many people, it’s become a habit to get into a vehicle and drive while dog tired. Because we all know that dozing off behind the wheel can be deadly, many grab a cup of coffee, drive with the window open, or play loud music, all in an effort to stay awake.
A 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 60 percent of adult drivers admitted to driving drowsy over the past year. That equates to approximately 168 million Americans driving drowsy every year, and about a third of them admitted to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel. Thirteen percent said it happens once a month! Those most at risk for driving drowsy include men, teens, young adults and individuals who work non-traditional shifts.
It has been estimated by the National Traffic and Safety Administration that sleepiness contributes to 100,000 car accidents annually. Sadly, these accidents account for over 1,500 deaths, 71,000 reports of injury and monetary losses upward of $12.5 million.
If so many studies prove the dangers of drowsy driving, why is more not being done to halt it?
Unlike driving while intoxicated, there is no field test to indicate when a driver is drowsy. Further, officers are not trained as extensively in recognizing signs that point to drowsy driving. Lastly, state legislatures have not made it a priority to implement laws that forbid or charge individuals for driving while drowsy. Currently, the only state in the U.S. that has a drowsy driving law on the books is New Jersey. Maggie’s Law was passed after a young college student was killed by a drowsy driver.
Our lives always seem to get busier and there are often not enough hours in the day to get everything done. Many carve precious time out of sleep to catch up, not knowing what a dangerous habit this is. Remarkably, a recent study has found that the impairment of an individual who has been awake for 20 hours can be compared to that of a driver whose blood alcohol level is .08 — the legal limit in most states. Traffic officials further note that, because a drowsy driver does not slam on the brakes or try to avoid an accident, most of these crashes prove to be fatal.
Educating others on the dangers of driving drowsy is essential to curbing this behavior. Parents need to discuss this with their teen drivers and set an example by only driving when they are alert and in control.
Source: “Driving drowsy as dangerous as driving drunk, studies show,” CNN.com, 11/9/11