Now that the sun is setting earlier, drivers are spending much more time in the dark. According to AAA, younger drivers are much more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than older motorists. The group's study found that one in seven drivers ages 16 to 24 have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once during the past year, compared with one in 10 older drivers.
Driving drowsy is deadly regardless of age. AAA estimates that about one out of six deadly crashes involves a drowsy driver. "Being awake for more than 20 hours results in impairment equal to a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal limit in all states," the National Sleep Foundation said in a statement.
Warning signs that it's time to pull over and take a break include difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, heavy-feeling eyelids, trouble keeping your head up, unintentional swerving, not being able to remember the last few miles driven and feeling aggressive or irritable.
Below are the National Sleep Foundation's tips for preventing a sleep-related crash:
- Start the drive alert. Be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
- Don't rush. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It's better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
- Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
- Take a break every 100 miles or two hours. Do something to refresh yourself: Get a snack, switch drivers or go for a jog.
- Take a nap. Find a safe place to take a 15- to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
- Avoid alcohol and monitor medications that cause drowsiness.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
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