On May 31st of last year, a bus on an overnight trip from North Carolina to New York City crashed; killing four people and injuring more than 50 after the fatigued driver fell asleep at the wheel. Today, after a thorough investigation, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman put the blame on both the bus operator and federal regulators.
|Photo sourced from NBC Washington|
While this crash was a tragic example of a commercial driver falling asleep at the wheel, this problem doesn’t only apply to those who drive for a living. In a 2010 study, the Foundation found that 2 out of 5 drivers (41%) reported ‘falling asleep or nodded off’ while driving at least once in their lifetime; one in 10 (11%) reported having done so within the past year, and 4% said they did so in the past month.
Sleepiness can cause slower reaction time, lapses in judgment, vision impairment and delays in processing information. Studies has shown that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol content of .08%, which is the legal limit in all states. In other words, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving!
The same Foundation study found an estimated 1 in 6 of fatal crashes, 1 in 8 of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and 1 in 14 of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed involved a drowsy driver. And, many researchers believe drowsy driving related crashes are grossly under-reported.
If you find yourself having difficulty keeping your eyes opened and focused, drifting from your lane or are unable to clearly remember the last few miles driven and/or traffic signs, it’s time to find a safe place to pull over and evaluate your options.
Here are some tips to remain alert and prevent falling asleep at the wheel while driving:
- Get plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) the night before a long trip
- Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time – fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment and vision, causing people who are very sleepy to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk
- Travel at times when you are normally awake, and stay overnight rather than driving straight through;Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
- Drink a caffeinated beverage. Since it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, find a safe place to take a 20‐30 minute nap while you’re waiting for the caffeine to take effect
- Travel with an awake passenger
For more information about drowsy driving, go to www.aaafoundation.org, and remember to mark your calendars November 11th -17th for Drowsy Driving Awareness Week!