Drowsy driving is more prevalent than you might think

Trying to juggle all the demands of our daily lives, it’s easy to skimp on sleep. But that has numerous negative effects – including putting ourselves and others at risk on the road. Crashes involving drowsy driving are a bigger threat than many realize.

A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study shows that the percentage of crashes involving drivers who are dozing off, or close to it, is eight times higher than federal estimates. Researchers analyzed in-vehicle footage of drivers’ faces and found that drowsiness was present in 9.5 percent of all crashes compared with government estimates of 1-2 percent.

As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless, but missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk, according to AAA traffic safety experts.

Some symptoms that indicate your lack of sleep is putting you and others at risk include:

  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open.
  • Drifting from your lane.
  • Not remembering the last few miles driven.

And while it is important to look out for signs of drowsiness while on the road, AAA warns that more than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel.

Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, rolling down the window will not work, as your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake. Drivers should not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs and should instead prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before hitting the road. 

AAA recommends that drivers:

  • Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

For longer trips, drivers should:

  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
  • Do not underestimate the power of a quick nap. At least 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes of sleep can help to keep you alert on the road.
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