Simply, a tired driver is a dangerous driver. Sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases aggressiveness. Just like driving drunk or drugged, drowsy driving causes you to make mistakes behind the wheel - mistakes that can injure or kill the driver, passengers or total strangers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsiness or fatigue is the principal cause of up to 100,000 police-reported passenger vehicle crashes every year, killing at least 1,500 people and injuring 71,000. Many more fatigue-related crashes go unreported.
Surprisingly, a study showed the majority of crashes and near-crashes occur during daytime hours, when roads are more crowded, rather than at night. But sleep-related accidents at night tend to be more serious because they are more likely to occur on high-speed highways and rural roads, when the driver is alone.
How to avoid falling asleep at the wheel
• Stop driving if you feel sleepy. Stop and drink a caffeinated beverage.
• Get plenty of sleep the night before taking a long trip - at least six hours, though more is better.
• Don't plan to work all day and then drive all night.
• Drive at times when you are normally awake, and stay overnight in a hotel or motel rather than driving straight through.
• Avoid driving at so-called sleepy times of day. Take a mid-afternoon break for a short nap and find a place to sleep between midnight and dawn. If you can't nap, at least stop your drive and rest for awhile.
• Take a break every two hours or every 100-120 miles, even if you don't need a pit stop or gas. Get out of the car, take some deep breaths and do some stretching exercises, especially neck and shoulders, to relieve cramping and stress. And try to set a limit of 300-400 miles of driving per day.
The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.