Busy roads and drowsy drivings make summer roads especially dangerous.If you're hitting the road for your summer vacation this year, one thing you'll need to contend with is dangerous drivers. From tailgaters to clueless motorists who don't use signals to texting teens, being alert on the road is more important than ever. And yet many of us aren't as alert as we should be. This was brought home recently in a tragic accident on Cape Cod, Mass., in which a recent Yale University graduate was killed in the middle of the afternoon when her boyfriend fell asleep at the wheel.
As it turns out, drowsy driving is more common than you think. According to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue, causing 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries each year.
Perhaps the most surprising of the study's findings is that most fatigue-related accidents or near-accidents occur during daytime hours when roads are clogged. And don't assume it's long-haul truckers dozing at the wheel -- they're the least likely to snooze since a federal regulation took effect prohibiting them from driving more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period. Less than 1% of all sleep-related accidents involve truck drivers.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analysis of the study found that 16- to 24-year-olds were twice as likely to fall asleep as drivers age 40 to 59, due to driver inexperience and irregular sleep habits. Work schedules also take a toll: Night-shift work and working more than one job increases the odds of a fatigue-related crash. Men are also more likely than women to doze off while driving -- 55% of men reported falling asleep while driving on a high-speed divided highway.
New technology in cars is attempting to wake up sleepyheads before they crash. "Increasingly common are lane-keeping alerts," says Carroll Lachnit, consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. "You get a beep and a visual display saying you're out of your lane. Some steering wheels will start to rumble, while others will actually move the car back into the lane you're traveling in."
Still, "no amount of technology will compensate for a driver falling asleep," she says. The National Sleep Foundation offers the following tips to avoid drowsy driving and keep your family safe on the road this summer:
- Get at least 7 to 9 hours asleep before getting behind the wheel. (Follow these 9 steps to a better night's sleep.)
- Don't rush to reach your holiday destination. Skip driving all night, and stop for breaks every couple of hours.
- Use the buddy system. A fellow traveler who remains alert can watch for signs of sleepiness and take a turn at the wheel.
- If you're feeling tired, find a safe place to pull over and take a 15- to 20-minute nap.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that make you sleepy.
- Drink caffeine to boost alertness.
Get more health tips from RealAge:
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