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Drowsy Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving results in 1,550 deaths, 40,000 injuries and more than 56,000 crashes each year in the US. In 2009, 97 percent of adult Utah motorists admitted that driving while severely drowsy is a major threat, yet 44 percent say they have fallen asleep or nodded off for even a moment while driving, according to a Utah Department of Public Safety poll. In fact, of those who had fallen asleep while driving within the last six months of the poll, 59 percent were on a multi-lane interstate with a posted speed limit of 55 miles an hour or more and 41 percent had been driving less than an hour. Not surprisingly, 71 percent of those who had fallen asleep behind the wheel had slept fewer than eight hours the night before.

In 2012, Utah crash statistics show that drowsy driving caused 14 fatalities, 44 serious injuries and 1,020 crashes. However, since there is no test to determine sleepiness as there is for intoxication and reporting is inconsistent, these figures may be the tip of the iceberg.

Did You Know: Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

To avoid becoming a hazard on the road, understand the risks and warning signs of driving drowsy (provided by the National Sleep Foundation):

Are You at Risk? Before You Drive, Check to See if You Are:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued (six hours of sleep or less triples your risk)
  • Driving longer than 100 miles or two hours without proper rest breaks
  • Driving alone — having a companion can help you stay alert
  • Driving on a long, rural or dark road
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep
  • Taking sedating medications (e.g., antidepressants, cold tablets, antihistamines)
  • Working more than 60 hours a week (increases your risk by 40 percent)
  • Suffering from insomnia or poor quality sleep
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol

Warning Signs Include:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming or wandering thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable

When Feeling Drowsy, Drivers Should First Pull Over, Then:

  • Switch drivers.
  • Take a 10- to 20-minute nap.
  • Get out of the car and stretch or jog for a few minutes.
  • Eat a snack.
  • Find a safe place to sleep for the night.