Get sleep to drive safe

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Like many people trying to manage a full-time job filled with long car rides and even longer nights, I rarely get an ideal amount of sleep at night. Caffeine and stubbornness usually keep me going daily. But a recent study confirmed the obvious for me: that my typical, sleepless work regimen is a recipe for disaster.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s federally funded Prevalence of Drowsy Driving Crashes: Estimates from a Large-Scale Naturalistic Driving Study” recruited 3,593 drivers from six study sites across the country, according to the press release. Researchers studied in-vehicle dashcam video from more than 700 crashes, and the results confirmed that drowsiness is a fearsome specter behind many car crashes.

“Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk,” Dr. David Young, executive director for the AAA Foundation, stated in the press release. “By conducting an in-depth analysis using video of everyday drivers, we can now better assess if a driver was fatigued in the moments leading up to a crash.”

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A scientific measure was applied to drivers’ faces in the video leading up to their respective crashes. Researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes involved drowsiness, whereas federal statistics had estimated that it’s only a factor in one to two percent of crashes.

Further data only amplifies the concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of drivers in the U.S. sleep less than the recommended seven hours minimum each night (a rather lofty goal).

Another related survey by the AAA Foundation revealed that 29 percent of those surveyed admitted that sometime in the previous month, they were driving “when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open,” per the press release.

“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA, stated in the press release. “But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

Sleep is the most common scapegoat in a busy workweek. The warning signs like drifting out of lanes are just as common as heavy eyelids. Some drivers use caffeine or call a friend to stay awake, but short-term solutions can’t beat good, old-fashioned shut-eye.

“Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, rolling down the window will not work,” William Van Tassel, manager of Driver Training for AAA, stated in the press release. “Your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.”

The press release recommends driving breaks on intervals of two hours or 100 miles, or for power naps between 20 to 30 minutes. But even better, in my opinion, is just planning your week with a goal of getting seven hours of sleep each night.

I’m hoping to wise up sooner rather than later and take my own advice. Be considerate of others on the road, and get some sleep.