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SALT LAKE CITY — Life can get busy, full of appointments and obligations that keep us on the go and can even push us to the limit in order to get it all done. But, when we push ourselves to the point of getting behind the wheel tired, we put ourselves and others in danger. Drowsy driving can be extremely dangerous, and recent studies have shown 16.5 percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.
As we approach the holiday travel season, many people will be hitting the roads to visit family and friends. Here are a few things for you to consider that can help you stay safe and alert on the road.
Worst times for sleep-related crashes
Drivers are more susceptible to sleep-related crashes at night or in the afternoon. Night time, especially between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., is particularly risky because it is when we are generally sleeping. Many drowsy driving crashes also occur during the "afternoon lull" between 1 and 5 p.m.
Younger drivers more likely to drive drowsy
• Difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused
• Difficulty keeping your head up
• Yawning frequently or repeatedly rubbing your eyes
• Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating or hitting rumble strips
• Missing traffic signs or driving past your exit
• Feeling irritable or restless
• Daydreaming or having disconnected thoughts
Results from a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found younger drivers are more likely than older drivers to drive while drowsy. Drivers between the ages of 16-24 are 78 percent more likely to have been drowsy at the time of a crash than drivers between the ages of 40-59.
Young people tend to think they need less sleep and can find themselves sleep deprived. Teen aged bodies are still growing, requiring approximately nine hours of sleep a night to be fully rested.
Here are seven tips to help you avoid drowsy driving crashes:
- Get Your ZZZs. Get enough sleep, at least seven hours, the night before a trip. Try to organize tasks related to your trip so you can complete them in the days before your departure. This will allow you to get a good night's rest instead of staying up late to finish the preparations.
- Travel at times when you are normally awake. Driving at times you are normally awake will allow you to be the most alert. Also, keep meals light when driving to minimize the effects of the "afternoon lull."
- Caffeine has its limits. While caffeine may help you feel more awake, it takes about 30 minutes to take effect and only lasts a few hours. It is not a substitute for getting enough sleep, but it can be part of your strategy for staying alert.
- Use the buddy system. An alert passenger can watch you for signs of fatigue. They can also help keep things interesting by playing music or engaging in conversation.
- Schedule stops. Plan to stop every two hours or 100 miles to give you a break from the road. Use the stop to get out of the vehicle, stretch and walk around so your body can refresh itself.
- Take a power nap. Pull off the road and pick a safe place to park, such as a rest area or parking lot. Rest for 20 minutes, and then get up and walk around before continuing your trip.
- Above all, never drive while sleepy. If you become sleepy while driving, pull over and get some sleep. Remember, if you nod off for four seconds while traveling 65 miles per hour, you will travel more than the length of a football field without having control of your vehicle. Sleepiness and fatigue can slow your reaction time, decrease awareness, and impair your judgment just like drugs or alcohol. Use the tips above to help you stay alert behind the wheel, so you and your family can have a safe holiday season on the roads.