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New report signals a wake-up call to the danger of drowsy drivers

New report signals a wake-up call to the danger of drowsy drivers

Even though today is National Sleep Day, an alarming new report finds many people are falling asleep behind the wheel on a consistent basis.

Yes, a lack of sleep is making our roads dangerous.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study today that looked at self-reported drowsy driving behavior. The CDC interviewed adults via telephone in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and they found that of the 147,076 respondents, 4.2 percent reported having fallen asleep while driving at least one time during the previous 30 days.

Men were more likely to report drowsy driving than women, and the prevalence decreased with age. Motorists who reported snoring or sleeping less than six hours a day were also more likely to report falling asleep behind the wheel.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2.5 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2009—approximately 730 deaths and two percent of all crashes with non¬fatal injuries (from about 30,000 total)—involved drowsy driving.

Drowsy drivers typically have trouble keeping their eyes and head up, can drift out of their lane, can’t remember the last few miles they drove, and miss traffic signs or exits. Clearly, they are a danger to themselves and a threat to others.

A number of automakers are working on this issue by adding lane-departure warnings to their vehicles, which alert drivers if they are drifting out of their lane. Volvo has a driver-alert system that uses cameras and sensors to monitor the car’s movements and assess whether the vehicle is being driven in a controlled manner. Mercedes-Benz has a similar system called Attention Assist, which monitors steering corrections and driver interaction with the vehicle controls. With both systems, if the vehicle determines a risk, there is an audible alert aimed at getting the driver’s attention.

But technology can only go so far. Here are some tips to help stay alert behind the wheel.

  • Get at least seven hours of sleep a night.
  • Stop driving if you feel sleepy. It sounds obvious, but clearly many drivers are not doing this. Safely pull over and take a short power nap to help you rejuvenate and get back on the road.
  • Travel during daylight times and not overnight if you don’t have to.
  • Sometimes listening to talk radio can keep you engaged.
  • Take a break at least every two hours on long trips.
  • Avoid alcohol and medications that can cause drowsiness.
  • Try some caffeine, although can take 30 minutes to feel the effects.
  • Travel with someone who will be awake and who can talk to you or take on some of the driving responsibilities. A lively conversation can help keep you alert.

Learn more about car safety. And see our coffeemaker buying advice and ratings.

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