Drowsy driving: The hazards of falling asleep at the wheel

Have you ever pulled into the parking lot at work in the morning and realized you don't really remember the drive in? Or turned the music up in an effort to stay awake on the commute home? Sure, it's normal to be tired after working a long day, but if you are driving drowsy and unable to focus on the road ahead, you might be putting yourself and others in danger. Jeremy Hoover, safety coordinator, Parkview Lagrange Hospital, offers tips for preventing driving drowsy and some warning signs. 

While falling asleep at the wheel is clearly dangerous, being sleepy while driving can be just as hazardous. Drowsiness causes drivers to be less attentive, slows reaction time and affects a driver’s ability to make decisions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that among 150,000 adults ages 18 and older, 4.2 percent reported falling asleep while driving at least once within a 30-day period. Even more alarming, research by the National Institutes of Health has revealed that as many as 5,000-6,000 fatal car accidents each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

Some of the warning signs of drowsy driving include:
  • Yawning or blinking frequently
  • Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
  • Missing your exit
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Hitting a rumble strip
To prevent drowsy driving before taking the wheel:
  • Get enough sleep – the National Institute of Health recommends 7 - 8 hours for adults and 9 - 10 hours for adolescents each night.
  • Refrain from drinking alcohol or taking sedating medications before driving.
  • If you have a sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about treatment.

Turning up the radio or opening the window are not effective ways to stay alert while you are driving. If you experience any of the warning signs of drowsiness while at the wheel, pull over to rest or change drivers. 

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