Less than half of Americans say they get a good night’s sleep every night. Combine excessive sleepiness with an automobile, a long drive and one of the heaviest travel seasons of the year, and our risk for a fall-asleep crash increases significantly. In fact, 28 percent of American drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel and more than half said they have driven while drowsy.
“People think they can judge the precise time they are too tired and don’t realize that ‘drowsy driving’ is a serious danger,” says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. “They don’t know that it’s possible to fall into a three to four second microsleep without realizing it. Traveling at 65 miles per hour, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field basically unconscious.”
Even if you manage to stay awake, sleepiness causes slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment and delays in processing information, which are all critical elements for safe driving practices. “Getting enough sleep can literally save your life,” adds Cloud.
Warning Signs: If you start to do the following, it’s time to get off the road. Find a safe place to pull over:
National Sleep Foundations Countermeasures to Prevent Fall Asleep Crashes:
- Have problems focusing, blink frequently and/or have heavy eyelids
- Drift from your lane, swerve, tailgate and/or hit rumble strips
- Have trouble remembering the last few miles driven.
- Miss exits or traffic signs
- Have trouble keeping your head up
- Yawn repeatedly
- Find yourself rolling down the windows or turning up the radio
For additional injury prevention information, visit the Paoli Hospital Trauma Center website.
- Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
- Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize their weekend or vacation time by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It’s better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
- Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
- Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself; get a snack, switch drivers, or go for a quick walk at the rest stop.
- Take a nap—find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap if you think you might fall asleep.
- Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up
- Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Consume safe levels caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours. Be sure to check with your doctor to make sure caffeine is a safe option for you.