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Feeling Drowsy? How to Stay Alert While Driving | Cheap Car Insurance

Most people wouldn’t dream of getting behind the wheel if they had too much to drink, but few people give driving a second thought if they had a bad night’s sleep. And that is a problem according to highway safety advocates.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, about 7 percent of all crashes, and more than 16 percent of fatal crashes each year can be attributed to fatigued driving. That translates to about 6,000 people dying in drowsy driving crashes each year.

Those numbers are estimates, and likely underestimates because, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, precise counts of crashes caused by drowsy driving are not yet possible. That’s because crash investigators can look for certain clues that drowsiness was likely to have contributed to driver error, but these clues are not always identifiable or conclusive.

And while drowsy driving is only illegal in New Jersey and Arkansas, it is a problem all across the country, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which says that missing a night of sleep renders drivers unfit to operate a motor vehicle.

According to the Sleep Foundation’s official definition, people who sleep fewer than two hours in the previous 24 hours are too sleep deprived to get behind the wheel.

“Sleep-deprived drivers cause more than 6,400 deaths and 50,000 debilitating injuries on American roadways each year,” said Dr. Charles A. Czeisler, chairman of the Consensus Panel and Chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

And just because two hours of sleep is their minimum, that doesn’t mean that it is enough. The sleep foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep before driving.

According to the Sleep Foundation’s statistics, adults 18-29 are the most likely to drive drowsy, and men are more likely to drive drowsy than women.

Where you drive matters, too. The Sleep Foundation said that people tend to fall asleep while driving on high speed, long or rural highways.

Although sleepiness can affect all types of crashes during the entire day and night, the NHTSA estimates that drowsy-driving crashes most frequently occur between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late-afternoon – both times when there are dips in your internal clock that regulates sleep.

Many drowsy-driving crashes also involve only a single vehicle, with no passengers besides the driver, running off the road at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking.

The Sleep Foundation estimates that nearly a quarter of adults in the U.S. say they know someone personally who has fallen asleep at the wheel. So, aside from making sure you get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel, what else can you do to stay safe?

Tips to keep you alert and awake

  • Avoid drinking any alcohol before driving. Consumption of alcohol interacts with sleepiness to increase drowsiness and impairment.
  • If you take medications that could cause drowsiness as a side effect, use public transportation when possible.
  • If you drive, avoid driving during the peak sleepiness periods (midnight – 6 a.m. and late afternoon).
  • If you must drive during the peak sleepiness periods, stay vigilant for signs of drowsiness, such as crossing over roadway lines or hitting a rumble strip, especially if you’re driving alone.
  • If you know you have a long road ahead and feel sleepy, drink something with caffeine
  • If you are on a long road trip, make sure you plan to make regular stops for short naps
  • Try stopping for a break every two hours or 100 miles on the road
  • Travel during times you are normally awake

The NHTSA warns that even caffeine isn’t always enough, though. That’s because caffeinated drinks might help you feel more alert, however, the effects last only a short time, and you might not be as alert as you think you are. If you drink coffee and are seriously sleep-deprived, the NHTSA warns that you still may have “micro sleeps” or brief losses of consciousness that can last for four or five seconds. This means that at 55 miles per hour, you’ve traveled more than 100 yards down the road while asleep — an entire football field.

If you start to get sleepy while you’re driving, drink 1-2 cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place, such as a lighted designated rest stop. This has been shown to increase alertness in scientific studies but only for short time periods.

Pushing through and driving a few more miles while sleepy isn’t worth your life, your family’s lives or the lives of the drivers around you.