Officer, I wasn’t drunk, I was sleepy.
That’s apparently how one in 10 U.S. motorists could respond to a traffic cop who pulled them over for driving erratically, or worse, causing a fatal accident.
The National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America poll found that about one in 10 drivers ages 16 to 45 report driving drowsy once or twice a week. Additionally, it’s estimated that about one in six deadly crashes involve a sleepy driver.
“Drowsy driving occurs frequently with drivers working long hours and being tired on the road, and people don’t tend to think about or recognize it as a potential danger,” said Gerry Wilson, CEO of Plymouth Rock Management Co. of New Jersey. Wilson’s company recently took part in Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, a national awareness initiative designed to educate drivers about the dangers of driving while drowsy.
Slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment and delays in processing information can all be caused by too little sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says studies have shown that staying awake for more than 20 hours can result in a condition equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, the legal limit in all states. And, it is possible for a person to fall into a 3-4 second micro-sleep without realizing it — a truly dangerous state if it occurs while one is behind the wheel.
Many programs and campaigns advocate for the prevention of drowsy driving. Wilson from Plymouth Rock Management Co. says the insurance industry can help improve safety on the road by helping to educate the public about drowsy driving, its risks and ways to prevent it from happening.
While everyone who drives has the potential to fall asleep at the wheel, the National Sleep Foundation suggests that some are more at risk than others. People who are at a higher risk of driving while drowsy include young drivers, shift workers and those working long hours, commercial drivers, people with sleep disorders and business travelers — especially those who may suffer from jet lag or spend long hours behind the wheel.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that every year more than 100,000 crashes resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths are the result of drowsy driving. And those are only the ones that are reported.
The National Sleep Foundation didn’t mention anything about feasting before driving as being a cause for driving drowsy. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, one can’t be too careful. After eating that big turkey dinner it seems only prudent to take a nap before hitting the road.
I’m planning on it.