We've all done it. Balancing the needs of family, work and friends is all it takes. Stressed out and sleep deprived because of the demands on our time, we get behind the wheel when we shouldn't. Even worse, sometimes those dearest to us are in the backseat. I'm talking about drowsy driving. Getting behind the wheel when too tired to drive safely is more dangerous than you might realize, yet many of us have done it.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than 28 percent of Americans admit to driving in the last month when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open. That's despite the fact that 95 percent of Americans also deem this behavior to be unacceptable.
I couldn't agree more. Sleepiness, or fatigue, impairs safe driving ability by slowing our reaction time and leads to poor judgement while behind the wheel. So, it's no surprise that drowsy driving is a factor in 16 percent to 21 percent of all fatal crashes.
I'm here to ask you to make a better choice, and it will only takes 10-15 minutes. The answer is sleep. Yes, it's simple. It seems obvious, but most of us skip this lifesaving step. While many drivers blast the radio, roll down the windows or chat with someone on their smartphone to keep alert, these tactics are ineffective. However, just 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep can recharge you enough to avoid dozing while behind the wheel.
The tricky thing about drowsy driving is that biologically, most of us simply don't realize we've fallen asleep at the wheel. The inability to keep your head up, drifting from your lane or off the road, unintended tailgating, difficulty keeping your eyes open and staying focused are all signals that you are at high risk of falling asleep -- or already have! Researchers call these microsleeps. They are short lapses in consciousness caused by your brain. It occurs when you are severely fatigued and need to rest. Neither coffee, nor cold air will succeed in fighting it. Only sleep will do the trick.
Drowsy driving doesn't get the attention it deserves. It's under reported and is difficult to show as a causal factor in a crash. That doesn't mean we ought to ignore it, especially when it's entirely preventable. Know the signs of driving while dangerously drowsy, and take steps to stay safe. Many of us are guilty, and I'm no different. When I travel extensively, I get to the point where I can't think as clearly as I need to until I get some decent sleep. These are the moments I have learned to avoid driving unless I can get a short nap. It's just 10-15 minutes, but this short addition to my commute time keeps me and those around me safe. Naps aren't just for babies. Taking one before you choose to drive drowsy could be the reason you live long enough to watch your babies grow up.