Drowsy Driving is impaired driving, and it is dangerous.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, 60% of Americans have driven while feeling sleepy and 37% admit to actually having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year. However, many people cannot tell if or when they are about to fall asleep. And if sleepiness comes on while driving, many say to themselves, “I can handle this, I’ll be fine.” Yet they’re putting themselves and others in danger. What they really need is a nap or a good night’s sleep.

Here are some signs that should tell a driver to stop and rest:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable

How to prevent driving while sleepy

  • Get adequate sleep—most adults need 7-9 hours to maintain proper alertness during the day
  • Schedule proper breaks—about every 100 miles or 2 hours during long trips
  • Arrange for a travel companion—someone to talk with and share the driving
  • Avoid alcohol and sedating medications—check your labels or ask your doctor
  • If possible, stop driving
  • Pull over at a safe location and take a nap
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage
  • Be aware of rumble strips

The Following is the Executive Summary from the 2008 report to the Massachusetts Legislature on Drowsy Driving, which served as the launch point for our efforts:

Operating a motor vehicle while overly-fatigued or sleep-deprived,
commonly referred to as “drowsy driving,” poses a serious risk not only for one’s
individual health and safety but also for that of others on the road. Research found that
fatigue-related crashes account for 1.2 million accidents and 500,000 injuries annually
–including 60,000 debilitating injuries and 8,000 fatalities. Why is the incidence of
such crashes so high?

Quite simply, people can’t seem to stay awake behind the wheel. According to a
Department of Transportation survey, 7.5 million drivers in the United
States admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel within the past month, with another
7.5 million drivers admitting to having done so during the prior 2-6 months.

In an effort to capture an accurate account of the prevalence of this
dangerous trend within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Legislature in 2007
convened the Special Commission on Drowsy Driving within the Junior Operator’s Law (Chapter 428 of the Acts of 2006). The Commission was comprised of legislators, industry
professionals, research experts, legal experts, law enforcement officials, and,
unfortunately, victims of this avoidable problem.

Data indicates that those most susceptible to incidents of drowsy
driving include young men aged 16-29, drivers with untreated sleep disorders,
night-shift workers, commercial drivers, and persons working long shifts and long weeks.
The Commission took this information into account when formulating its
recommendations, and first thought it necessary to undergo a significant campaign to make the motoring public aware of the dangers of driving while overly-fatigued. While the Commission recommends that those who drive while sleep-deprived be punished
accordingly, they first propose educating new and current drivers of the dangers, as
well as giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to recognize drowsiness,
although there is no blood test for fatigue.

The Commission recommends other reforms at agency levels or within state government to improve facilities and promote public-private partnerships.

When implemented, these reforms will certainly go a long way toward promoting
education and understanding of the important relationship between
adequate sleep and safe driving.