This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on 05/17/2016.
It’s hard to explain how it feels to suddenly lose a family member at a young age. My brother Jim was energetic, fun, loved school, and had lots of friends. Jim drove regularly just as many of us do, careful to wear seatbelts, avoid speeding, using mirrors to check other nearby drivers, etc.
On a Monday night after the week-end of the fall clock change, Jim was driving from Washington, D.C., back to his law school in North Carolina by himself, a journey of about six hours, but he never made it. In all appearances, he fell asleep driving, and his car swerved to the opposite lane and collided with a Greyhound bus. What happened to him could have happened to any of us who drive.
Studies of fall asleep auto crashes have found that young male drivers (ages 16-25), are at a greater risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Furthermore, research has shown an increase in deadly auto crashes in the days following the clock change for Daylight Savings Time. Historically, estimates of sleep-related car crashes have likely been gross underestimates.
In recent years, data on sleep-related auto crashes have greatly improved. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now estimates that up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers. The National Sleep Foundation (drowsydriving.org) recommends the following:
- get off the road if you notice any of the warning signs of fatigue,
- take a nap – find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap,
- consume caffeine – the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours, but DO NOT rely on it for long periods,
- drive with a friend. A passenger who remains awake can help watch for signs of fatigue in the driver and can take a turn driving, if necessary.
Finally, always wear your seatbelt.
Marian Berkowitz founded the Jim Berkowitz Driving Safety Fund in 2012 and has been working with injury prevention experts in Massachusetts to increase public awareness about the hazards of drowsy driving.