You know not to get behind the wheel if you're tipsy, but would you drive if you're drowsy?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleepiness can impair driving performance as much or more so than alcohol. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that one out of eight crashes requiring hospitalization was caused by drowsy driving. In the trucking industry, those numbers are even larger: as many as 50 percent of truck drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel, leading to over 40,000 wrecks and injuries each year.
These numbers are huge, and this problem is real.
Are You Driving Drowsy?
At my firm, I've seen time and again the devastating, life-changing aftermath of car and truck accidents. It's easy to wonder, what could have been done differently? What can we all do to avoid these kind of traumatic wrecks?
First, don't drive drowsy. Seems simple enough, right? And yet, many of us have trouble telling when we're too tired to drive. Of course, excessive yawning and head-nodding are easy-to-spot signs of drowsiness, but take a look at this list of additional warning signs:
- You miss your turn, blow through a stop sign or break late for a yellow light. When we start to get tired, we often miss traffic signals that should have been obvious.
- You suddenly realize you're tailgating. Drowsy drivers have a habit of creeping closer and closer to the car in front of them.
- You can't remember the last few miles of your drive. As your body becomes more exhausted, you'll start to forget more and more of what you've already passed.
- Your thoughts aren't coherent. The more weary you are, the more chaotic your train of thought will be, if you can even remember your thoughts at all.
Technology Could Take Over
What if your car could sense when you started to fall asleep behind the wheel? What if it could wake you up before you caused an accident?
That's exactly what European consortium called Harken has in mind for it's in-development seatbelt sensor device. According to Harken, the company is creating car sensors that will be able to monitor a driver's heart and breathing rates from contact points along their back, legs, thorax and abdomen. The smart device will then sense changes in the driver's vitals that suggest they're dozing off. The driver's car will be able to wake them before anything can go wrong.
“The rhythm of heart beats, specifically heart rate and heart rate variability, are good indicators of concentration and wakefulness,” notes a poster Harken presented at a Paris conference in April.
With the combination of education and technology like this, we could prevent thousands of needless accidents and deaths each year.
In the meantime, I think it's important to be mindful of drowsy driving. The next time you're planning a long road trip or thinking about tomorrow morning's early commute, do what you need to do to be rested and ready for the road ahead.