Health News

November 05, 2018

Drowsy Driving Prevention Week

Drowsy driving is a widespread national public health and safety issue. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving is related to at least 100,000 motor-vehicle crashes and more than 1,500 deaths per year. About 71,000 drowsy-related crashes involve non-fatal injuries. Drowsy driving can strike even the most seasoned driver and more needs to be done to protect the safety of everyone on the road. At Summit Medical Group Arizona, we would like to do our part to decrease the number of drowsy driving incidences by raising awareness and educating our patients and the surrounding community on the prevalence, dangers, warning signs, and prevention of drowsy driving.

 

What is drowsy driving?

Drowsy driving occurs when a person who is operating a motor vehicle is too tired to remain alert. As a result, the driver may have slow reaction times, reduced vigilance and impaired thinking. In the worst case, the driver may fall asleep behind the wheel. 

 

Why is it dangerous?

Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  Drowsy driving is dangerous because sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive as if you have a blood alcohol level of .05%.  If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep—it’s the same as having a blood alcohol level of .10%.  This is higher than the legal limit at which someone is considered intoxicated.  Sleep is the only preventive measure against drowsy driving. 

 

Who is at risk?

Even one night of sleep loss or poor sleep can put you at risk of drowsy driving. But certain people have a higher risk of drowsy driving than others.  A recent study published in the medical journal Sleep found that people with obstructive sleep apnea were 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in an accident than people without the sleep disorder. Fortunately, the study also found continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, therapy was effective at reducing the rates by up to 70 percent if the person used the technique for an average of four hours every night. Many people with obstructive sleep apnea remain untreated. Other sleep disorders which increase sleepiness include chronic insomnia, restless legs, and narcolepsy, where the sufferer falls asleep without warning during ordinary situations. 

 

People who work night shifts or rotating shifts are at risk for drowsy driving. This includes people who work as doctors, nurses, truck drivers, pilots and police officers. The risk of drowsy driving is greatest when they drive home after work.

Many medications cause sleepiness as a side effect. People taking these medications are at higher risk for drowsy driving accidents.

Drowsy-driving accidents are most common among young men in their teens and 20s. These accidents tend to occur between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.  55% of all crashes in which the driver fell asleep involved drivers 25 years and younger.

 

What are the signs of sleepiness?

It is not uncommon for drivers to not identify the signs of fatigue.  However, there are warning signs which indicate that you are too tired to drive.  They include: 

  • Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open or your head up
  • Yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly
  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating and missing signs or exits
  • Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive
  • Turning up the radio or rolling down the window
  • Slower reaction time, poor judgment

  

What are some tips for preventing drowsy driving?
  • Getting a full night of seven to nine hours of sleep is the best preventive measure against drowsy driving. 
  • Consume caffeine--the equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours, and usually takes about 30 minutes to enter the bloodstream. Caffeine is available in various forms (coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chewing gum, tablets), and in various amounts. For example, the amount of caffeine in one cup of coffee (about 135 mg) is about the same as 2-3 cups of tea or 3-4 cans of regular or diet cola. Try consuming caffeine before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both.
  • Schedule proper breaks, about every 100 miles or 2 hours during long trips.
  • Arrange for a travel companion—someone to talk with and share the driving.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedating medications—check your labels or ask your doctor.
  • Avoid driving late at night.
  • Take a short nap after consuming caffeine to maximize the effect.
  • Arrange for someone to give you a ride home after working a late shift.

 
We hope these tips will help you stay safe and alert behind the wheel.