National Sleep Foundation: Memorial Day Kicks Off Deadliest Driving Season

America's highways will soon be bumper to bumper with road-tripping vacationers eager to enjoy their favorite Memorial Day vacation spots. Sadly, many drivers will hit the road without having enough sleep, oblivious to the dangers of drowsy driving. Because Memorial Day kicks off the summer vacation season, which according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the deadliest time of year for drivers, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) reminds drivers to stay alert at the wheel and beware of other sleepy drivers in order to arrive at their destinations safely.

"Many people fail to realize just how much sleep impacts alertness on the roadways. Not getting a good night's sleep and driving can have deadly consequences," said Richard Gelula, NSF's chief executive officer. "In fact, drowsy driving may be just as dangerous as drunk driving because sleepiness results in slower reaction times and performance; reduced judgment and vision; delayed information processing and short term memory formation; and even increased anger and moodiness."

According to NHTSA, driver fatigue is the direct cause of 100,000 car crashes each year, and the results are both deadly and costly: NHTSA estimates 1,550 deaths; 71,000 injuries; and $12.5 billion in diminished productivity and property loss. Researchers believe that these numbers are underestimated, given that an estimated 1 million crashes are produced by driver inattention--a side effect of fatigue.

Tips for drowsy-free driving
Here are some tips for avoiding a crash caused by drowsiness during Memorial Day weekend and year round:

  • Get a good night's sleep before you hit the road. You'll want to be alert for the drive and for your vacation, so get to sleep early the night before you go.
  • Don't be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Don't drive all night or without stopping for breaks. Crashes caused by sleepiness are among the most deadly. It's better to allow yourself enough time, drive alert, and arrive alive.
  • Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
  • Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours.
  • Avoid alcohol and medications (over-the-counter and prescribed) that may impair driving performance and magnify the effects of sleepiness.
  • Avoid driving at times when you would normally be sleeping.
  • Pack a cooler filled with caffeinated beverages. Caffeine takes effect in about 20 to 30 minutes. If you start to feel sleepy, drink a caffeinated beverage and then pull over for a 30-minute nap before getting back on the road.

If you are feeling sleepy--pull over!
Though you may be alert when you first begin your drive, drowsiness may set in soon. Trying to beat traffic or arrive at your destination early by driving while sleepy puts you and other motorists at risk. The following warning signs indicate that it's time pull over and stop driving:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
  • Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Trouble keeping your head up.

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