March 3, 2015
Nodding at the Wheel: Five Ways to Save Yourself from Drowsy Driving Accidents
By Jonathan Damashek
New York is known as the city that never sleeps. Unfortunately, insufficient sleep greatly affects a driver’s ability to operate a car safely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that drowsy driving has become a serious risk on the roadways of America, particularly among younger drivers. Drowsy drivers are a danger to themselves and to others who share the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving accidents cause 71,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths each year. The drivers at greatest risk of drowsy driving are young men ages 19 to 26 years old.
A lack of sleep makes a driver less attentive, slows reaction time, and affects the driver’s ability to make on the spot decisions. The National Sleep Foundation reports that less than six hours of sleep actually triples your risk of causing a car accident.
Who is Most At Risk of Being a Drowsy Driver?
- Young drivers
- People who work long hours
- Commercial drivers
- People who work rotating schedules or non-traditional schedules
- Drivers who have been drinking or taking certain medications
How to Avoid a Drowsy Driving Accident
There are steps you can take to help avoid a drowsy driving accident. Be part of the solution and follow these important tips:
Get Sufficient Sleep
Most of us need seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested. If you are sleep deprived, your work performance will suffer and your ability to make decisions, whether at work or behind the wheel, will be diminished.
If You Are Seriously Tired, Don’t Drive
Have you ever found yourself nodding off behind the wheel? You are endangering yourself and others. Keep in mind that drowsiness is the last stage before falling asleep, not the first! Drowsiness means you are seconds from falling asleep, according to Dr. William Dement, a prominent sleep physician. Rather than driving while drowsy, use another form of transportation such as train, subway, cab, or car service. Taking a taxi will be far less costly than the financial consequences of a serious car accident caused by drowsy driving.
If You Become Drowsy, Pull Over
Falling asleep at the wheel is incredibly dangerous so don’t risk it. Learn to recognize the signs of drowsiness in yourself and in other drivers. They include difficulty focusing, rolling down the window to wake up, drifting from the lane, and inability to remember the last few miles driven.
Rather than continuing to drive if you are drowsy, pull over and find a convenient place to nap in your car. A 15 to 20 minute nap and a cup of coffee could increase your alertness and allow you to drive safely. If you see signs of drowsy driving in another motorist such as weaving or drifting out of their lane, stay away from them and report the suspected drowsy driver to police.
Drive with a Companion on Long Trips
If you are planning a long road trip, having another person in the car could be a lifesaver. Long drives without rest breaks increase the risk of an accident. It’s a good idea to take regular breaks and switch drivers every couple of hours. It’s been estimated that 40 to 60 percent of crashes involving drivers running off the road involve a fatigued driver. Rumble strips are valuable in preventing such accidents. The New York State Thruway experienced a 34 percent reduction in run off road accidents after installing rumble strips.
Avoid Medications if you Plan to Drive
Many medications have the side effect of making a person drowsy, including depression meds, painkillers, antihistamines, and others. If you plan to drive, only take your medication after arriving at your destination.
Your Responsibilities as a Driver
New York drivers have a responsibility to take reasonable care to prevent harm to others when behind the wheel. Drivers who disregard the need for sufficient sleep and drive fatigued should be held accountable when they cause accidents that injure others. If you have a problem getting enough sleep or have a condition such as sleep apnea, speak with a doctor about your symptoms. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a drowsy driver, it’s a good idea to review your legal options.
- Centers for Disease Control: Drowsy Driving, Asleep at the Wheel
- National Sleep Foundation: Drowsy Driving Detection and Prevention