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Driving Tired: A Comprehensive Look at a Growing Epidemic Among Motorists

POSTED BY Jan Dils . August 30, 2016

Recently while trying to kill some time before a social event, I played a game of Would You Rather with a group of friends. For those who may be unfamiliar with the game, participants are given two situations in which they have to decide which they’d rather do. For instance; would you rather have the ability to fly or would you rather be invisible. You have to decide which situations you’d rather have or do. Would you rather be 10 pounds lighter or 10% smarter? Sometimes the questions can get very specific and very difficult. For instance, would you rather spend an evening with the Kardashians in which you have to compliment them every six minutes, or spend 8 months in jail? There is no right answer to that question. However, I was asked a question during this game that was very difficult to answer. I believe my response was different than what most people would say. I was asked: would you rather be given an all new Dodge Challenger Hellcat with free insurance for life or be guaranteed a full nights rest every night for the remainder of your life. That was tough. It’s my dream car versus something I desperately need. I chose to be able to sleep easily the rest of my life.

Why would someone as materialistic as me choose sleep over the car I so desperately want? Truth be told, I have a reliable car already. While I’ll admit that an eleven-year-old Chevy Malibu isn’t going to be featured in the next Fast and Furious movie, it gets me where I need to be. Sleep is something that I rarely have. Full disclosure, if I get more than four hours of sleep per night, I consider myself lucky. I find that I am actually jealous of people who don’t have difficulty sleeping. I’ve tried medication before, but it either didn’t work, or it made me not function at all.

Some people might be asking why this is such an issue. Obviously, our bodies need sleep. That’s why we do it. But the lack of sleep is very unhealthy. WebMD States that lack of sleep can cause you to gain weight, become depressed, have impaired judgement, and possibly worst of all, and have bad skin.

If I were to do an informal poll in any group, most people would agree that driving while intoxicated is wrong. Alcohol impairs your judgement, delays your reaction time, and makes it difficult to concentrate. Lack of sleep impairs your judgement, delays your reaction time, and makes it difficult to concentrate. So, those two symptoms are the same, yet, a lot more people will drive a car with lack of sleep than they will while intoxicated. And of course, driving while intoxicated is illegal while driving while sleep deprived isn’t. Or is it? It actually depends on where you live. Take Arkansas for instance. This state Classifies “fatigued driving” as an offense under negligent homicide- punishable by a class A misdemeanor- when the driver involved in a fatal accident has been without sleep for 24 consecutive hours.

How bad is it? Well, it’s much worse than you may think. The CDC is currently attempting to make the public aware of the severity of the problem. They shared this statistic on their website:  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013.4 However, these numbers are underestimated and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers. In comparison, the CDC states that in 2014, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. So, while the number of deaths relating to intoxication is much higher than that of drowsy drivers, it’s still a major issue on our roadways.

This issue impacts far more drivers than we realize also. The CDC website also states that more than 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. That number is staggering. In addition to individuals who have traditional sleep disorders, some people may be at risk if they are simply in a situation that is not traditional. Persons taking part in shiftwork, commercial/long haul drivers, and persons on road trips may experience issues with drowsy driving. Further, any person taking a new medication that causes drowsiness may be impacted too.

Like drunk driving before it, drowsy driving is easy to prevent. Follow these easy tips to prevent drowsy driving:

  1. Plan a sleep schedule. It’s easy to do. Actually, a lot more adults are setting bedtimes In fact, it’s recommended to do this to keep your body on track. Going to bed at the same time every night will help you sleep better.
  2. Don’t let FOMO get the best of you. FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is impacting more people each year. I have a lot of issues with this. One of the reasons I can’t sleep is because I am using social media every night instead of sleeping. I don’t want to miss a good Tweet or a photo on Instagram. Snapchat has ruined my life because I follow so many interesting people. But, it can wait. Most doctors will actually recommend sleeping in a room without a television or a mobile phone. My personal doctor even stated that I shouldn’t eat in my bed. I didn’t listen of course, but it makes sense. Your mind should associate bed with sleep. If you are doing everything else in there, it will confuse your mind.
  3. When driving long distances, be sure to split the duties with someone else, or make other arrangements. There is nothing more fun than going on a road trip with some friends. Just make sure to split the driving shifts. I have a friend who really struggles to let other people drive when on a trip. It has something to do with him wanting to constantly feel in control. It’s quite annoying and actually unsafe. Let someone else take the wheel. I’ll be traveling early next month by myself. My trip is about 8 hours total. While I could easily drive that by myself, I am stopping part of the way through to spend the night in Charlotte. I will also do this on the way home.
  4. Keep your mind awake. Have you ever noticed that if you’re driving in your car with the radio off and the windows up, that it’s the perfect recipe for drowsiness? I have caught myself being less alert in these situations. Recently on a trip home from Pennsylvania, I noticed that I was starting to feel sluggish. I stopped by a local gas station, purchased a soda, and downloaded the entire 2nd season of the Serial Podcast. I was alert for the rest of the trip. The reason, the podcast was very interesting, and this helped me stay alert. Plus I learned a lot along the way. Even if podcasts are not your thing, listen to high energy music, or even roll the windows down.
  5. Take a nap at a rest stop. I think too often people are embarrassed to sleep in their cars at rest stops. That is one of the primary reasons they were invented. Pull over for a few hours and get some sleep. For me, that can be a little difficult because my car is small and I am not. But, I’d much rather take an uncomfortable nap than fall asleep at the wheel.
  6. Call for a ride. Two years ago I would have suggested calling a taxi, but there are so many more options now. Use a ride-sharing service like Lyft or Uber. Or if you really want to treat yourself, use UberBlack or UberLux. You should reward yourself for making a responsible decision. For the people who may complain about the cost of a taxi or Uber, it really beats the alternative…death.
  7. Don’t rely on driving aids. Cars are currently so advanced. They will help you park, they will let you know if there is someone in your blind spot, and some cars can even wake you up if you leave your lane. You might say that these driving aids are going to save a lot of lives. While it is likely that these systems have helped people avoid accidents, they don’t always work. Recently, while test driving a car equipped with a lane departure warning system, the system would not engage with the reprehensive was trying to demonstrate it for me. The popular Automotive Television show Top Gear also showed how these systems can fail on their program. So, you really can’t rely on a driving aid to avoid an accident. The best safety feature is an alert and active driver.

Overall, it’s really a difficult time to be a driver. In 2016, cars are much safe than before, but drivers are not. If you’re involved in an accident with a driver who was negligent because of a lack of sleep, the insurance may try to make things difficult for you. This is especially true if you have injuries as a result of the accident. Call us today for a fee consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather contact us after hours, fill out this form, and we’ll call you at a more convenient time.

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