Drowsy Driving: A Growing Problem

Natalie Josef
September 15, 2010

Back in 2002, I left California with my bandmate to head out to Nashville to pursue a music career. Driving a U-Haul and towing a car with our four cats, we set out one afternoon full of excitement and anticipation.

After eight hours of driving, we were still in California, and much less excited, but we had a deadline, so we decided to drive through the night. The worst part of the drive was through Flagstaff Arizona at like 4:00 in the morning. It was snowing and the roadway had an erie white glow that was both enchanting and soothing—it was lulling me to sleep.

And then, the oddest thing happened. I started to see little animals on the side of the road, like a scene straight out of Bambi. The animals were frolicking and just too cute for words. I reached over and poked my bandmate to wake him up so he could see all the animals.

Five minutes later, we were on the side of the road, shivering in the snow as we changed drivers. Apparently, there weren’t any cute little animals on the side of the road. I was so tired, I was hallucinating. I’m lucky I didn’t get us killed.

November 8–14 is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week and it couldn’t come at a better time. In many states, accidents due to drowsy driving are becoming more common than accidents due to drunk driving.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, each year, drowsy driving-related accidents are responsible for 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in losses.

Think about it. If a car is going 55mph, it’s going 81 feet per second. Even if your reaction time is slowed by a mere half second—like the time it takes to close and then open your heavy eyelids—that’s 40 feet of road you will eat up while not paying attention.

Drowsy driving is particularly dangerous for teens. According to Lt. Ron Adams of the Jackson Police Department in TN, "Drowsy driving is particularly dangerous in teens and young adults because this group often does not get enough sleep. They are less experienced drivers, and they drive more often at night."

Some of the signs of drowsy driving are frequent blinking, heavy eyelids, difficulty focusing, daydreaming, wandering thoughts, missed exits, repeated yawning, drifting across lanes, and having troubling remembering the last few miles you just drove. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should stop the car, get out, and walk around for a few minutes to wake yourself up. You can also grab some coffee or take a quick nap. If someone else can drive, even better. Talking on the phone, turning up the radio, or blasting the AC don’t really do much to wake you up.

To prevent drowsy driving in the first place, make sure you are well rested—you should get at least seven to nine hours of sleep before heading out. And don’t try to do too much, like driving through the night.

Trust me, as cute as those little forest animals were, I was in some dangerous territory there. It’s not the end of the world if you have to stop the car—getting to your destination in one piece is far more important.


Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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