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Be alert to dangers of drowsy driving

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Driving while drowsy is an unnecessary risk you shouldn't take.

Sleep deprivation has become widespread in North America as people try to squeeze more and more activities into each day.

One consequence: More vehicle crashes attributed partly or wholly to sleepiness.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says about one million crashes a year are thought to occur because of driver inattention or lapses -- and fatigue makes such inattention more likely.

In a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 57 percent of those interviewed said they had driven while drowsy and 23 percent admitted to having fallen asleep behind the wheel.

NHTSA reports that sleep-induced crashes typically involve a driver who is alone and driving late at night or in mid-afternoon on a high-speed road (so the crash is more likely to be serious). Most of the time, it's a single-car crash because the vehicle leaves the roadway.

Leave the driving to those who are wide awake!

In other words, many of us may be susceptible to driving while sleepy, but there are some things we can do to avoid doing so.

The National Sleep Foundation and other experts suggest the following:

* Get a good night's sleep before starting a long drive,

* Avoid driving during your body's natural "down time" when you'd normally be sleeping,

* Plan to drive long trips with a campanion. Passengers can help look for early warning signs of fatigue and can help share the driving. Passengers should stay awake to talk to the driver,

* Sit up straight while driving; don't slouch. Don't stare straight ahead at all times; scan the road and nearby areas,

* Stop for a rest every 100 miles or two hours,

* If you need one, take a short nap. Or get some exercise -- run in place, jump up and down,

* Avoid alcohol and medications that may make you sleepy; read the label on the container or ask your physician, and

* Consult a doctor if you have any symptoms of a possible sleep disorder; frequent daytime sleepiness, frequent difficulty sleeping at night or loud snoring every night.

So, before you hit the road, make sure you've had a good night's sleep. Then you can rest assured you'll arrive at your destination safely.