June 2017 is National Safety Month. The National Safety Council (NSC) is partnering with thousands of organizations across the United States to make people more aware of how to stay safe. This June, the NSC assigned a different theme for each week. The focus for Week Two is "Recharge To Be In Charge (Focusing on Fatigue)."
How big of a problem is fatigued driving?
Drowsy driving is a huge problem in the U.S. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of 83,000 crashes a year involve drowsy driving. These crashes result in an average of 37,000 injuries and 886 highway fatalities a year. And these are just accidents in which it was obvious the driver was fatigued or fell asleep at the wheel. Because there is no drowsy driving test, there are likely many more accidents that resulted from drowsy driving.
However, even though there is no standard fatigue test like there is for drunk driving, fatigued driving can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsiness can impair judgment, performance, and reaction times in the same way alcohol and drugs can.
A person who has gone without sleep for more than 21 hours will have a drowsy driving impairment that is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.15, reports the National Road Safety Strategy from the Australian Transport Council. A person who has been awake for 17 hours will display driving impairment equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.05.
What is more, the National Sleep Foundation reports that more than one-third of Americans admit they have fallen asleep at the wheel during the last year. Over half of us report that we have driven drowsy in the last year.
How sleepy is too tired to drive?
Determining whether you are too tired to drive is difficult because chances are, you are already a danger to others on the road if you begin exhibiting these signs. If you experience any of these warning signs, you are too tired to drive. You should immediately switch drivers, get some caffeine (if you are very close to your destination), or find a place to take a nap or to sleep for the night.
Warning signs for fatigued driving:
- You miss highway signs or exits.
- You find yourself tailgating unintentionally.
- You drift in and out of your lane.
- You feel irritable.
- You are repeatedly yawning.
- You are having trouble keeping your eyes open.
- You are rubbing your eyes.
- You have trouble focusing or keeping your head up.
How can I avoid fatigued driving?
The best way to avoid fatigued driving is to get a good night’s sleep each night, but especially before a long trip. The following tips will also help keep you safe on the road:
- Do not drink alcohol, even a small amount. If you are sleep deprived, alcohol can have much greater effects than it ordinarily would.
- Do not drive if you feel tired or if you have gone longer than usual without sleep.
- Do not drive when you would normally be sleeping. Many people prefer to drive through the night when on summer road trips, especially with children. This practice can be dangerous if your body clock is used to you being asleep at night.
- Do not drive if you are taking a medication that may cause drowsiness. Make sure you read the labels of all medications you take before driving.
- Switch drivers if you have any of the warning signs of fatigue. If you cannot switch drivers, stop driving.
- If you only have a short period to drive, consume caffeine and then take a 15 to 20-minute nap. When you wake up, the caffeine will kick in and help you be more alert for two or three hours. This tip does not work for longer drives.
- If you are riding with a passenger who cannot drive, have that person stay awake and help keep you alert. Have him watch for signs of fatigue.
How can I get a good night’s sleep?
The NSC recommends that we schedule our sleep time consistently. It is best to wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day, seven days a week. If possible, keep cell phones and other electronic devices out of the bedroom. Keep your bedroom cool and dark for sleeping. Do not drink alcohol shortly before bedtime.
Check out our blog for more ways to stay safe on the road.