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Heed Warning Signs, Avoid Drowsy Driving
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Automobile accidents often are attributed to recklessness, carelessness or even drunkenness, but another dangerous condition often is at fault -- drowsiness.
Sleepy drivers can be just as hazardous as other impaired motorists, but attributing crashes to sleepiness is difficult. Some states do not even have a code for sleepiness on their accident report forms.
Linda Patterson, extension health education specialist at Mississippi State University, said drowsiness and fatigue may play a role in many crashes attributed to other causes.
About a million crashes annually are thought to be the result of lapses in drivers' attention.
"Sleep deprivation and fatigue make such lapses of attention much more likely to occur," Patterson said.
Patterson said sleepiness can have potentially fatal consequences for drivers and innocent victims, but there are warning signs that can help prevent accidents.
"Drivers know when they are getting sleepy, but it is important to heed warning signs that indicate a person is too tired to continue driving," Patterson said.
"When drivers can't remember the last few miles, start drifting from the correct lane, or yawn repeatedly they are probably too tired to drive," she said.
Other warnings that signal drivers are too sleepy to be safe include having difficulty focusing or keeping their eyes open, tailgating or missing traffic signs, having trouble keeping their head up and jerking their vehicle back into the appropriate lane.
Patterson said drivers should learn to recognize when they are in danger of falling asleep and respond to the symptoms of fatigue by finding a safe place to stop. Take a brief nap, and drink coffee or another source of caffeine to promote short-term alertness, if needed.
When drivers plan ahead for trips, they may be less likely to become tired while driving. Schedule regular stops about every two hours, take a companion who can help look for early warning signs of fatigue and switch drivers when needed.
"Any passenger in the car who talks to the driver reduces the risk of having a fatigue-related accident," Patterson said.
She also warned to avoid alcohol and medications that may impair driving performance. Get a good night's sleep before traveling. Most people need to sleep about eight hours a night to avoid fatigue during the day.
"Be especially cautious when traveling on high-speed, long, boring, rural highways. Truck drivers, many of whom drive during the night when the body is sleepiest, are very susceptible to fatigue-related crashes. Also be careful if you are a shift worker. The drive home from work after the night shift is likely to be a particularly dangerous one," Patterson said.