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Driving whilst drowsy

03-03-2014

Driving whilst drowsy

In the past few decades the attitude towards drink driving has changed enormously, where as in the past people saw it as an acceptable if somewhat unwise decision to make, it has now been justly vilified as a dangerous, selfish and stupid choice every time. Unsurprisingly, with the massive increase in policing and the change in social acceptability, the rates of drink driving have been dropping around the world over the past few years. However, this doesn't mean that we can let our guard down, too many people are still dying on our roads unnecessarily. One of the main causes of accidents these days is drowsy driving, could this be the new drink driving?

Drink to Drowsy Driving
While drink driving was never seen as the smartest decision, it was not as widely hated or policed against as it has become. This rise in enforcement and decline in social acceptability has seen the rates of drink driving drop significantly in recent years, but sadly there has been a rise in drowsy driving that is just as concerning.

How Bad is It?
So just how bad is it? The data indicates that between 15 to 33 percent of fatal car crashes in the US are caused by drowsy drivers, and new research from the Perelman School of Medicine in Pennsylvania shows that people who regularly  get less than six hours of sleep a night, on average, are the most likely to suffer from drowsy, and therefore impaired, driving, even after they have been well rested.
The study’s author Michael Grandner, who is a member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology said that “Falling asleep at the wheel is a major cause of road accidents. It might even be more of a problem than drunk driving, since it is responsible for more serious crashes per year.”

The Figures
So what are the figures? In the United States, 250,000 drivers fall asleep at the wheel every day, according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  A recent national poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that a staggering 54% of adult drivers said they had driven while drowsy during the past year and 28% saying they had actually fallen asleep while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes, resulting in 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually in the USA.

The Take Home
What does this mean then? It means that while we have become aware of the dangers of drunk driving, we seem to be far more ignorant of the dangers of drowsy driving. In part this is possibly because it is much harder to quantify than drink driving, being tired is a part of daily life for many of us and ‘how’ tired we are is hard to gauge, especially in comparison to others.

The take home should be that if you feel drowsy when driving or have fallen asleep at the wheel then you need to be mindful of how much sleep you are getting and whether you are a safe driver.


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