Family & Parenting

Asleep at the Wheel

Asleep at the Wheel

By Crystal Hoepner,
Health Educator

We all know the feeling, – you are driving and beginning to feel sleepy. Your head is feeling heavy, so you open the window for more fresh air and turn the radio up louder. You are an impaired driver, but not because of alcohol, because of sleepiness.

According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, getting behind the wheel of your car when you are exhausted is as bad as driving drunk. Drowsy driving is impaired driving. Sleepiness and driving is linked to 1 in 5 fatal crashes.

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Like alcohol and drugs, sleep loss impairs driving skills, which makes hand-eye coordination, reaction time, vision, awareness of surroundings, judgment and decision-making more difficult. Drowsy driving will also cause a decrease in driving performance and an increase in moodiness and aggressive behaviors.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests drivers who sleep only five or six hours in a 24-hour period are twice as likely to crash as drivers who get seven hours of sleep or more. And the less sleep the person gets, the higher the crash rate. Drivers who get only four or five hours of shut-eye have four times the crash rate, close to what’s seen among drunken drivers.

Who’s at risk? The problem is most prevalent among young drivers, shift workers and those who work long hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the warning signs associated with drowsy driving include:

•Yawning or blinking frequently.
•Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven.
•Missing your exit.
•Drifting from your lane.
•Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.

According to a survey conducted by the CDC, one in 25 adult drivers (age 18 or older) reported falling asleep while driving in the 30 days prior to being questioned.

Nothing takes the place of sleep in preventing a drowsy driving-related crash. Be sure to be well rested before you drive, but if you are feeling restless and struggling to stay awake while driving, experts suggest you keep the radio on, open the window to get some air, and make sure to stop during long drives.

Crashes due to drowsy-driving are 100 percent preventable. We all need to wake up to the dangers of getting behind the wheel when sleepy to protect ourselves, our family and others on the road. Drive alert and arrive alive.

Crystal Hoepner is a health educator with Horizon Public Health. The Mission of Horizon Public Health is to enhance the health and the well-being of all who live, work and play in the five-county Horizon community.

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