Drowsy driving prevention

Richard Kelly

There’s a natural drive about people that seems to make them want to keep going even when they’re tired. Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, which is headed by the National Sleep Foundation, argues that shouldn’t be the case when people are driving.

But are accidents really a problem with tired drivers at the wheel? Recent studies show that in Kansas, more than 800 reported accidents were caused by drowsy driving in 2006, and more than 50 percent of those drivers were under the age of 25. Although people might think they can continue on the roads for extended periods of time, studies show that someone who stays awake longer than 18 hours has the impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent, and this impairment only increases as someone stays awake.

“Many people have awareness about consumption of alcohol but few realize the effects of staying awake for long periods of time and what it does to you,” said Henry Johns, director of the Pulmonary and Sleep Associates Sleep Center.

The risks of falling asleep at the wheel can be fatal. An automobile traveling at 70 mph covers about 100 yards every three seconds. That’s the length of a football field. Imagine having no control during that time, dozing in and out of consciousness. Many health professionals advise pulling off the road and resting somewhere, even for just a few hours. Drivers need to remember it’s not worth risking their lives to get to their destinations.

What else can be done to ensure safety behind the wheel? Adequate rest is vital. The Pulmonary and Sleep Associates and National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Results show that six hours of sleep or less triples the risk of an accident, and the risk increases even more as hours spent sleeping decrease. Caffeine can come in handy, but it should not be used as a sole method of staying awake.

“Although caffeine has a short burst and effect, it will only really help for someone who isn’t a regular user of it, because the body becomes used to the caffeine and that hinders the effects,” said Johns.

The prevention week has only been going on for two years, including this one. This year, Nov. 10th – 16th are the designated days of awareness. For the Pulmonary and Sleep Associates Sleep Center, it’s been difficult to get out awareness, but with an estimated 1,550 deaths a year from sleep-deprived driving, it emphasise that people should not drive when they are tired.

“People need to stop and say to themselves ‘is it really worth injury or death of me or someone else?’ when they continue driving when drowsy,” said Johns. “It’s putting an endangerment not only to the driver, but to anyone else on the road, and that can’t keep happening.”