Car crashes are the number one killer of teens in the United States. Alcohol is often a factor in fatal crashes involving young people, but sleepiness also plays a significant role.
The UNM Sleep Disorders Center is joining with the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) to raise awareness of the hazards of driving when tired during the launch of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week™ (DDPW).
The first annual Drowsy Driving Prevention Week will take place November 5-10, following the change back from Daylight Saving Time. This event will focus on saving the lives of young drivers by raising awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving and providing resources for advocacy at the state level.
"Most teens and college students have been educated about the dangers of driving while intoxicated, but many are woefully unaware that driving while tired can be just as dangerous," says NSF CEO Richard Gelula, MSW. “According to NSF’s 2006 Sleep in America poll, only one in five adolescents (20%) gets an optimal amount of sleep during the week, and more than half (51%) report having driven drowsy in the past year. Other research shows us that young people under the age of 25 are by far the largest at-risk group for these types of crashes.”
“Like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time and impairs judgment,” said Lee Brown, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Director of the UNM Sleep Disorders Clinic.
Unlike alcohol, a person who falls asleep while driving has no control of the vehicle and cannot take measures to avoid a crash. For this reason, drowsy driving crashes are often very serious or fatal and are recognized by the lack of skid marks at the crash scene, he said.
Young people need more sleep than older adults, yet most do not get nearly enough. The combination of sleepiness, inexperience and lifestyle choices, including a tendency to drive at night and in the early morning hours when there is a strong urge to sleep, puts teens and young adults at high risk for drowsy driving and sleep-related crashes.
Additionally, sufficient sleep time for young drivers is continually challenged by ongoing pressures including academic work load, extra curricular activities and early school start times (for both high school and college-aged students).
To avoid drowsiness while driving:
- Get adequate sleep before you drive
- Allow time for breaks on long trips – about every 100 miles or two hours
- Use the buddy system – ask a passenger to stay awake during the drive, to help keep you awake and to share the driving responsibilities
- Don’t drink alcohol and be aware of the potential side effects of any medications you might be taking – some cause drowsiness
- Judicious consumption of caffeine - the equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours but should not be relied upon to overcome sleep deprivation. If sleepiness sets in while driving, prevent a crash by pulling over to find a safe place to take a nap or sleep for the night.
Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322