You’ve certainly heard of drunk driving. Given the attention that driving while texting has received, you’ve probably heard of distracted driving. But did you know that drowsy driving is also a significant cause of traffic accidents?
The National Sleep Foundation sponsors Drowsy Driving Prevention Week each year to call attention to the dangers of drowsy driving. This year, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week will take place from November 4 to November 11.
As personal injury lawyers in Georgia, we see far too many accident victims suffer life changing injuries. While we are dedicated to helping injury victims recover the compensation they deserve, we support every effort to reduce the risks faced by drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians on the nation’s roads and highways. For that reason, we join the National Sleep Foundation in urging individuals to avoid driving after being deprived of sleep.
Drowsy Driving Dangers
Any driver might drive while fatigued, but some drivers pose a greater risk than others. Commercial drivers usually take care to get sufficient rest before driving, and most truck drivers are required to obey federal laws that limit the number of hours they can drive each day. But there’s no guarantee that a driver uses off-road time to get restorative sleep.
Some people, including some commercial drivers, have trouble sleeping. Even after a good night’s sleep, spending hours on the road can make a driver drowsy. The phenomenon known as microsleep occurs when a fatigued driver falls asleep for periods of two seconds to two minutes, often without closing his or her eyes. The driver of a tractor-trailer who nods off for just few seconds can cause a devastating accident by drifting across a centerline or running a red light.
Drivers who have a full meal and a glass or two of wine before driving might not be over the limit, but drowsiness after eating and drinking is a familiar phenomenon. Drivers who use medications that cause drowsiness often ignore or fail to read warnings on drug labels that caution against driving.
Some people suffer from sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or other sleep disorders that place drivers at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Other diseases, including myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, also create a risk of drowsy driving. Until those conditions are diagnosed, drivers may not realize why they are placing themselves, their passengers, and other users of the road in danger.
Preventing Drowsy Driving
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. With busy lifestyles, it isn’t always easy to get the sleep a body requires. The best way to avoid drowsy driving is to get the sleep you need.
If you haven’t slept for 24 hours, it isn’t safe to drive. Responsible people don’t drive after consuming alcohol. Sleep deprivation should be treated in the same way. If you have reason to know that you can’t drive safely and you drive anyway, you are engaging in the kind of negligent behavior that will make you liable for any harm that you cause.
Being aware of drowsiness is a key to safe driving. If you feel yourself getting tired, pull off at a rest area or stop at a restaurant. Have a cup of coffee, walk around, or close your eyes and take a nap. Caffeine isn’t a substitute for sleep, but it can help drivers stay alert. Some experts recommend drinking a caffeinated beverage foll0wed by a 20 minute nap. If you can manage that, you’ll probably wake refreshed.
Chewing gum, listening to music, and rolling down the windows to keep the air fresh are all strategies that help drivers stay awake. If you can mount your smartphone to the dashboard, you might also consider installing the Drowsy Driver app. It watches a driver’s eyes and makes a noise if the driver doesn’t seem to be alert.
If you have a sleep disorder, ask your doctor whether it is safe for you to drive at all. With your doctor’s approval, consider bringing a passenger to share the load of driving and to help you avoid drowsiness through conversation. A passenger can also watch for signs of microsleep and can rouse you if it appears you are falling asleep. Of course, if that happens, you need to get off the road as soon as you can.
Safe driving saves lives. Take time during Drowsy Driving Prevention Week to remind yourself of the actions you can take to protect your own life and the lives of innocent road users from the dangers of drowsy driving.