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The importance of safety while driving can’t be underestimated. We hear a great deal about the dangers of drinking and driving or texting and driving. However, one of the major causes of danger on the roads is often overlooked. Drowsy drivers cause as much danger as drivers who are distracted for other reasons. It doesn’t matter if your attention is averted from the road because of a smart phone, a person in the car, drunkenness, or nodding off at the wheel – either way, you cannot manage your vehicle and are likely to have an accident that can not only damage yourself, your property and the property of others, but it can damage or take the lives of other people on and off the road.
There are multiple stories of people who were not drinking and who considered themselves to be responsible drivers who thought they could manage their sleepiness with music or cool air, but the end of the story was devastating. One slight moment of dozing has led to the deaths of children and destruction of lives. It has also led to legal action against the driver who caused the accident. Yet we seem not to take sleepiness and driving very seriously as a society. We need to understand it is a serious issue that must be addressed.
The Many Reasons for Sleepiness on the Road
Often when increasingly pressured and busy, people often respond by cutting corners when it comes to sleep. Rather than cutting back on work or other responsibilities, many feel that the only area where they can ‘give up’ time is in relaxation and sleep. This type of lifestyle obviously causes problems for the health of the individual, but it can also create danger for others on the road.
The Sleep Health Foundation states that factors increasing your risk of being involved in a sleep-related vehicle crash include:
The Australasian Sleep Association says “Increased sleepiness during the daytime in otherwise normal people may be due to prior sleep deprivation (restricting the time for sleep), poor sleep hygiene habits, irregular sleep wake schedules or influence of sedative medications including alcohol. Insufficient sleep (less than 5 hours) prior to driving is strongly related to accident risk.” Source: Connor, J., et al., The role of driver sleepiness in car crashes: a systematic review of epidemiological studies. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2001. 33(1): p. 31-41.
Why Addressing Sleep Disorders Can Save Lives
Sleep disorders are one reason why there can be a tendency for a driver to doze off at the wheel. The Australasian Sleep Association has a lot to say about this issue. For example, when discussing sleep disorders, they state, “Fatigue is a major cause of road accidents. Sleepiness and sleep disorders are one important aspect of managing the risks of fatigue.” (Fatigue Expert Group Options for Regulatory Approach to Fatigue in Drivers of Heavy Vehicles in Australia and New Zealand, February 2001, NRTC).
They also state, in the same document, “Studies have shown an increased rate of motor vehicle accidents, of between 2 to 7 times that of control subjects, in those with sleep apnoea. Studies have also demonstrated increased objectively measured sleepiness whilst driving (electro-encephalography and eye closure measurements) and impaired driving simulator performance in sleep apnoea patients. This performance impairment is similar to that seen due to illegal alcohol impairment or sleep deprivation. Drivers with severe sleep disordered breathing (respiratory disturbance index greater than 34) may have a much higher rate of accidents than those with a less severe sleep disorder”.
Instead of seeing your possible sleep disorder as something that only affects you, it is important to realise that you are being a responsible citizen and driver when you address any sleep problems you may have. Not only will your lack of proper sleep impact your own life, but it can result in death and injury on the roadways.
Why Professional Drivers Need to Take Sleep Seriously
Truck drivers and others driving heavy vehicles are in an even more responsible role on the road because they are in charge of such a large vehicle for so many hours of the day. Whether they are suffering from a sleep disorder or simply lacking adequate sleep due to their transport schedule, it is essential that they become aware of their responsibility to stay get proper sleep so that they can remain alert.
The Australasian Sleep Association goes so far as to say that commercial vehicle drivers diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome should be required to have an annual review and that those using a CPAP should have a usage meter to allow a third party to objectively assess and record the compliance of use.
Most of us are familiar with the look of a half awake teenager stumbling through a room, looking for something with one eye open. This group of individuals is still in the process of learning to manage their schedules, getting used to their bodies and how they are changing, and taking on responsibility. Many teenagers have to rely on training to learn the dangers of the road since; hopefully, they haven’t experienced terrible accidents first hand.
It is essential driver’s education includes a serious look at the importance of managing one’s sleep properly in order to drive safely. Most teens will not think about this issue on their own as they probably feel in control of their own alertness. However, many of them are at increased of ‘sleepy driving’ because they are likely to work odd shifts, have an active social life, and spend evening hours and early mornings on school work, projects, or extracurricular activities. Sleep may not seem like a priority to them and so this issue needs to be carefully brought to their attention.
For some people, the only corrective action needed is to be conscious enough to get their required sleep, but others must consider the need for treatment from a specialist to responsibly work toward maintaining a level of alertness to make driving safe.
In essence, please drive carefully.
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