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Sleep :: Drowsy driving a dangerous yet preventable hazard for holiday drivers

America’s highways will soon be bumper to bumper with road-tripping vacationers eager to enjoy their favorite Memorial Day vacation spots. Sadly, many drivers will hit the road without having had enough sleep, oblivious to the dangers of drowsy driving.

Since Memorial Day kicks off the beginning of the summer vacation season, which according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the deadliest time of year for drivers, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reminds the public to stay alert at the wheel and beware of other sleepy drivers in order to arrive at their destinations safely.

?Many people fail to realize just how much sleep impacts alertness on the roadways. Not getting a good night’s sleep and driving can have deadly consequences,? said Richard Gelula, NSF’s chief executive officer. ?In fact, drowsy driving may be just as dangerous as drunk driving because sleepiness results in slower reaction times and performance; reduced judgment and vision; delayed information processing and short term memory formation; and even increased anger and moodiness.?

According to NHTSA, driver fatigue is the direct cause of 100,000 car crashes each year, and the results are both deadly and costly: NHTSA estimates 1,550 deaths; 71,000 injuries; and $12.5 billion in diminished productivity and property loss. Researchers believe that these numbers are underestimated, given that an estimated 1 million crashes are produced by driver inattention – a side effect of fatigue.

Drowsy driving is an all too common danger on America’s roadways. Those who claim that they have never operated a vehicle while feeling drowsy are in the minority, as NSF’s 2005 Sleep in America Poll showed that 60 percent of adults had done so in the past year. Furthermore, one out of five drivers report having actually fallen asleep while driving; that’s a staggering 32 million people!

?Drowsy driving risks the life of not only the driver, but the lives of their passengers – family and friends – and other drivers on the road,? said Gelula. ?The disastrous effects of fatigue-related crashes can easily be prevented; all it takes is for people to recognize the problem and get off the road.?

Are You Feeling Sleepy? Pull Over!

Though you may be alert when you first begin your drive, drowsiness may soon set in. Trying to beat traffic or arrive at your destination early by driving while sleepy puts you and other motorists at risk. The following warning signs indicate that it’s time pull over and stop driving:

Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids

Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips

Yawning repeatedly

Trouble remembering the last few miles driven

Missing exits or traffic signs

Trouble keeping your head up

Tips for Drowsy-Free Friving

Here are some tips for avoiding a crash caused by drowsiness during Memorial Day weekend and year round:

Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive and for your vacation, so get to sleep early the night before you go.

Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving all night or without stopping for breaks. However, crashes caused by sleepiness are among the most deadly. It’s better to allow the time, drive alert, and arrive alive.

Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.

Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours.

Avoid alcohol and medications (over-the-counter and prescribed) that may impair driving performance and magnify the effects of sleepiness.

Avoid driving at times when you would normally be sleeping.

Pack a cooler filled with caffeinated beverages. Caffeine takes effect in about 20-30 minutes. If you start to feel sleepy, drink a caffeinated beverage and then pull over for a 30 minute nap before getting back on the road.

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