Just before sunrise last November, an East Carolina University student and three of her sorority sisters were driving to get their hair done for a sorority pledge event that night. According to the father of the woman driving, she fell asleep at the wheel, causing her car to accelerate, run off the road and strike a tree.
The driver survived, but two of her passengers died and the third was injured in the car accident. Alcohol was not found to be a factor. The driver was charged with two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle for the deaths of her sorority sisters.
Drowsy Driving Statistics
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates drowsy driving causes approximately 100,000 motor vehicle accidents each year. More importantly, the NHTSA says that in those 100,000 crashes around 71,000 people are injured and about 1,500 people die.
The National Sleep Foundation's 2005 "Sleep in America" survey revealed that 60 percent of Americans had driven while drowsy and 37 percent had actually fallen asleep behind the wheel.
Many groups speaking out against drowsy driving equate it with drunk driving. While a drunk driver's reaction time is significantly impaired, a driver that is asleep at the wheel cannot react at all and may even continue to accelerate into danger.
While most adults can tell when they are tired, it is important to be aware of some of the signs of drowsy driving. They include:
- Repeated yawning
- Difficulty keeping eyes open
- Wandering thoughts
- Inability to remember the last few miles driven
- Drifting out of the driving lane
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety gives the following recommendations to prevent drowsy driving:
- Get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night
- Do not drink and drive
- Avoid medications that may induce drowsiness
- Drive with a companion on long trips
- Stop regularly for breaks (every 100 miles or two hours)
- Look into possible untreated sleep disorders
If a driver is feeling sleepy, he or she should pull over and take a 20 minute nap or find a bed for the night. Tricks like drinking caffeine, rolling down the window or turning up the radio may be a quick fix, but cannot compare with actually sleeping.
Drowsy driving is a serious issue that affects more than 100,000 lives each year. Because of the high risks involved, it is important that all drivers adequately prepare to drive in an alert state and get off the road when they begin to see the signs of fatigue. The consequences of drowsy driving are not worth the risk.