Most of us know by now that drowsy driving proves just as dangerous as drunk driving. However, it may come as a surprise that it's not truck drivers with long overnight shifts who are most likely to be involved in a drowsy driving-related car accident -- it's teenagers.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine announced their new "Awake at the Wheel" campaign within their National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project this week in an effort to connect with parents about the young drivers in their households and their potential risks of drowsy driving. They hope that by informing the parents and encouraging them to start the conversation about the risks of driving while fatigued, younger drivers will take the necessary precautions before getting behind the wheel.
“Drowsiness is similar to alcohol in how it compromises driving ability by reducing alertness and attentiveness, delaying reaction times, and hindering decision-making skills,” Dr. Nathaniel Watson, the president-elect of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and national spokesperson for the Healthy Sleep Project, said in a statement. “Drowsy driving is deadly, but it’s also completely avoidable."
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, approximately one in five fatal accidents include a drowsy driver, and drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 years old are the most likely to be involved in such incidences. The team behind the Healthy Sleep Project believes that by modeling healthy sleep behavior, promoting consistent sleep schedules for their teens, setting restrictions on "screen time" before bed and talking with their teens about the warning signs of drowsy driving, parents can make a substantial positive impact on these statistics.
Earlier this year, the National Sleep Foundation released updated recommendations for how much sleep people of varying age groups really need. And while the adult range of 7-9 hours remained the same, a new young adult category was introduced, suggesting that the closer to nine hours of sleep one accumulates, the better. With the Healthy Sleep Project, the AASM now recommends that teens log a little more than nine hours of sleep to achieve the optimal level of daytime alertness needed to eliminate the risk of drowsy driving.
Not sure of the symptoms of drowsy driving? No problem. Here is the list the organizations are sharing with all parents and teens through the campaign:
- You keep yawning or are unable to keep your eyes open.
- You catch yourself “nodding off” and have trouble keeping your head up.
- You can’t remember driving the last few miles.
- You end up too close to cars in front of you.
- You miss road signs or drive past your turn.
- You drift into the other lane of traffic, onto the “rumble strip” or the shoulder of the road.
At the end of the day, the goals of the Healthy Sleep Project reach beyond the scope of drowsy driving; it's all about showing younger generations just how important sleep is in leading a healthy, balanced life. Proper sleep benefits grades, athletic performance and one's comprehensive health, so learning the value of sleep earlier on is a lesson that will benefit teens for the rest of their lives.