Falling asleep at the wheel has become a common cause of accidents in Washington State, especially in rural areas that have long, empty roads. Most of the recent accidents have been semi-truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel. This is not an uncommon occurrence because truckers have been known to drive through the night to ensure that their load is delivered on time. But lately, more people have been involved in accidents from falling asleep at the wheel. For example, the 18-20 year old age group was proved in one study to be involved in five times more fatigue-related accidents and near-accidents than any other group. This can be contributed to their general lack of driving experience paired with notoriously irregular sleep patterns.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 100,000 car accidents each year are the direct result of people falling asleep at the wheel. Not only that, but these 100,000 car accidents related to falling asleep at the wheel are the cause of over 1,500 deaths and over 70,000 injuries annually, in addition to significant amounts of property damage each year.
There are some warning signs that people should watch for when they are driving at night or making a long road trip. It would be a good idea to stop driving and rest if you:
- Can’t remember the last few miles driven.
- Hit a rumble strip or drift from your lane.
- Keep pulling your vehicle back into the lane.
- Find yourself daydreaming or not paying attention
- Yawn repeatedly or keep shifting in your seat.
- Have difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open and your head up.
- Tailgate or miss traffic signs.
- Barely avoid collisions with objects or other cars
There are a few ways to prevent falling asleep at the wheel before you even start driving. If you are planning a long trip make sure to get at least six hours of sleep or more beforehand. Also plan on driving during the day and stopping at a hotel at night so that you’re not tempted to drive when you’re tired. If you are driving with another person, be sure to switch off and keep each other awake. To avoid feeling tired at the wheel, follow these tips, and if you still feel fatigued, pull over in a parking lot or rest stop to take a nap.
- Stay well hydrated. Drink cold water and sports drinks instead of constantly drinking caffeinated beverages. They will help you stay awake without making you feel anxious or restless and caffeine is only a temporary kick but can leave you even more tired once it wears off.
- Stop every 100 miles, or if you are on a short trip but feel yourself getting drowsy, pull over and stretch. The exercise will increase circulation to your muscles and brain.
- Avoid eating fatty, sugary foods while driving because the blood in your body will focus on digestion instead of pumping to your brain, leaving you sluggish and inattentive. Eat protein, fruit, or vegetables during long drives to stay alert.
- Don’t take any medications with diphenhydramine (such as cold, flu, or allergy medicine) that can greatly increase drowsiness.
According to a study conducted by Farmer’s Insurance, more than 10 percent of drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel, while more than 20 percent say they have momentarily dozed while driving, according to the study of 1,024 drivers.
Falling asleep at the wheel is referred to as “the silent killer” because it is so often overlooked by police because they are not trained to detect sleep-related crashes or whether someone was driving while dangerously drowsy. There have been many cases of police pulling over driver’s that seemed to be driving drunk but were only drowsy. It has become a serious problem on our roads today and you can help by following the suggestions listed above. Keep yourself, and others, safe by preventing accidents caused by drowsy driving and falling asleep at the wheel.