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The Dangers of Drowsy Driving


by Harry Graham

According to the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 8,500 Floridians were killed in automobile wrecks involving a drunk driver during a recent ten-year period.  That alarming statistic is not the worst news about ongoing dangers on Florida’s roads and highway.  Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that drowsy drivers pose the same – if not worse – threat to their fellow motorists as do drunk drivers.

The scary thing about drowsy driving is that we have all done it.  It does not involve excessive drinking (necessarily), use of drugs, or even being distracted while texting.  And, what makes it even more insidious is that drowsy driving is obviously not illegal, and engaging in it is not a crime or civil infraction in and of itself.  But, to be sure, it can have deadly consequences for the driver and others on the road.

Indeed, about 20% of fatal automobile collisions in our country involve a drowsy driver.  And in what could be considered a major public health issue, a number of studies have documented that every hour of lost sleep dramatically increases the probability that you will cause a wreck.  This is a real problem in our country where the CDC has documented that more than 1 in 3 Americans do not get enough sleep on a regular basis.

Medical experts state that, optimally, adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.  Upwards of 33% of the drivers on America’s roads and highways are not getting that amount of sleep, hence causing a hidden danger to the whole driving public.

For example, a driver who has only gotten 4 to 5 hours of sleep (in a 24 hour cycle) has 4 times the crash rate of someone who has had the sufficiently recommended amount of sleep.  Alarmingly, those drowsy drivers have a crash rate in the same league as drunk drivers.

So what can be done?

Obviously, the best solution is for all of us to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.  The good news is that the minimal safe amount of sleep does not have to be done all at once.  It can be spread out over a 24 hour cycle if for some reason you cannot get 7 straight hours of sleep.

If you are driving and catch yourself drowsing, experts say pull over for 10-20 minute naps (power naps) every several hours on a long drive.  The significant safety benefits will far outweigh any inconvenience in having an unscheduled stop.

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