A symposium taking place this afternoon at SLEEP 2008 is examining the contributing factors related to drowsy driving. Co-chairs Dr. Naomi Rodgers and Dr. Kenneth Wright Jr., along with a faculty of experts, are presenting the latest information.
According to the U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is a cause of at least 100,000 auto crashes each year. These crashes injure an average of 40,000 people and result in more than 1,550 deaths; the NHTSA suggests that the actual numbers are much higher.
Drowsy-driving crashes tend to occur late at night, are likely to be serious, often involve a single vehicle leaving the roadway, and tend to involve a driver who is alone in the vehicle. In addition to veering off the road, drowsy drivers are likely to wander into another lane or steer into oncoming traffic.
Sleep loss is an obvious factor in drowsy driving. Studies show that sleep deprivation impairs drivers in a manner that is comparable to alcohol, causing lapses in attention and slowing critical reaction times.
Other factors such as late or irregular work shifts, poor sleep habits and untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy can combine to make anyone vulnerable to drowsy driving. Young men in their teens and 20s are more likely to be involved in a drowsy-driving crash.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, tips to avoid drowsy driving include getting a full night of sleep before a long drive and pulling off the road to take a nap if you begin to feel sleepy.