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Message to Drivers:Driving While Drowsy is the Same as Being Intoxicated

October 31, 2006, by Mike Antich

If you are driving while fatigued, you are impaired. Just like alcohol, fatigue affects your ability to drive by slowing reaction time, decreasing awareness, and impairing judgment. If you are overly tired and driving, it is the same as being drunk behind the wheel.

Company drivers are especially at risk. They drive, on average, more than 2,000 miles a month, with many covering enlarged territories. When the American Automobile Association tabulated the top 10 driver errors, it listed “drowsiness” at No. 2, just behind distractions. This is supported by government statistics.

Annually 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These fatigued-related accidents result in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in economic losses.

Legislation exists that criminalizes drowsy driving. The state of New Jersey passed landmark legislation, known as “Maggie's Law,” stating a sleep-deprived driver is a reckless driver who can be convicted of vehicular homicide.

Are You at Risk?
We are often reminded about the dangers of drinking and driving. What many do not know is that tired drivers are just as dangerous. In fact, drowsy driving is equally as dangerous as drunk driving. Statistics show that more crashes and accidents are attributed to drivers who fall asleep at the wheel or are disoriented by drowsiness than by those who are intoxicated.

Results of the 2005 “Sleep in America” poll by the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) revealed that 60 percent of drivers report that they have driven a vehicle while drowsy and an astonishing 37 percent report they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. The human body often compensates for lack of sleep by taking micro-sleeps. These tiny naps last only a few seconds, but can have deadly results if they occur while you are driving. A car going 55 miles per hour can travel half the length of a football field during a two-second nap.

Factors contributing to fatigued-induced accidents include:

  • Too few hours of sleep. Six hours (or less) of sleep triples your risk of being involved in a fatigue-induced accident.
  • If you suffer from an undiagnosed sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, or are prone to insomnia.
  • Driving long distances without proper rest breaks.
  • Taking medications, such as antidepressants, cold tablets, and antihistamines, which cause drowsiness.
  • Interrupted or fragmented sleep or chronic sleet debt (lost hours of sleep that accumulate over time).
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark, or monotonous road.
  • Working more than 60 hours a week and driving increases your risk by 40 percent.

    Does Coffee Work?
    Telltale signs that you may be too tired to drive include loss of concentration, drowsiness, yawning, slow reactions, missing road signs, difficulty in staying in the right lane, and nodding off.

    Some drivers think drinking coffee will solve these problems. Caffeine does promote short-term alertness, but it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to begin working, so the best suggestion is to pull over for a coffee break or other caffeinated beverage, take a short nap, and then get back on the road. However, it is important to keep in mind that caffeine won’t have much of an effect on people who consume it regularly.

    The best remedy is a good night’s sleep. Let me know what you think.

    [email protected]

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    Mike Antich

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    Mike Antich has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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