Drowsy driving causes sleep related crashes

By Meghan Smith
December 6, 2007

mct campus/ orange county register

It is 2:30 a.m. and sophomore accounting major Erin Peters is just getting out of work. After working a double, she gets in her car for the two-mile drive home. Minutes away from home, Peters suddenly realizes she has slammed into a curb. How? Drowsy driving.

“I do it all the time. By the time I get off work it’s so late and I’m exhausted,” Peters said.

Drowsy driving kills more than 1,550 people a year in the United States and causes 71,000 injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There is an estimated 100,000 sleep-related crashes a year.

In the 2005 Sleep in American poll, 37 percent of respondents reported that they had fallen asleep while driving during the previous year.

“Most teens and college students have been educated about the dangers of driving while intoxicated, but many are woefully unaware that driving while tired can be just as dangerous,” National Sleep Foundation CEO Richard Gelula said on DrowsyDriving.org.

Only one in five adolescents (20 percent) get an optimal amount of sleep during the week and more than half (51 percent) have reported driving drowsy in the past year. This research found that drivers under the age of 25 are the largest at-risk group for drowsy driving crashes.

The combination of sleepiness, inexperience and lifestyle choices, including a propensity to drive at night and in the early morning hours when one would normally be sleeping, puts teens and young adults at high risk for drowsy driving and sleep-related crashes.

Additionally, adequate sleep time for young drivers is constantly challenged by ongoing pressures such as academic work load, extra-curricular activities and early classes.

“When I get tired while driving I turn my music up louder,” freshman elementary education major Angela Donato said. Music and fresh air are two of the most common ways in which drivers keep themselves alert.

The National Sleep Foundation launched a new campaign in early November targeting young drivers to educate them about the dangers of drowsy driving. NSF offers simple tips to help drivers avoid the signs of sleepiness-trouble focusing, frequent blinking, drifting from lane to lane.

Their tips include getting adequate sleep before you drive, allowing time for breaks on long trips ; about every 100 miles or two hours, using the buddy system, not drinking alcohol and being aware of the potential side effects of any medications and consuming caffeine; the equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours but should not be relied upon to overcome sleep deprivation.

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Meghan Smith

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