Drowsy Driving is the New Distracted Driving
By Emma Harrington, director of injury prevention and education at Shepherd Center
Ask any new parent who is routinely pouring their cereal into their coffee if fatigue impacts their ability to function. Not getting enough shut-eye has serious cognitive consequences, like inhibiting decision-making, attention, and memory — all significant skill sets needed to drive safely. Substantial time and attention have been paid to the distracted driving epidemic in our nation. Still, perhaps more education needs to be done on drowsy driving because it is easy for even the most vigilant among us to slip into it. The CDC reports that 1 in 25 has fallen asleep at the wheel in the last month. Most likely underrepresented in the data, at least 6,000 fatal crashes may have involved a drowsy driver in 2020. Certainly, more research on drowsy driving needs to be done, but for now, here are a few tips on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
- Talk to your kids about the importance of getting enough sleep — and lead by example. Set regular bedtimes and limit screen time before bed.
- Familiarize yourself with your state’s Graduated Drivers Licensing laws: most states restrict new drivers to daytime driving, as nighttime hours are far riskier. This is especially true for drowsy driving, where most injuries and fatalities occur between midnight and 6 a.m.
- Recognize and talk about the warning signs of drowsy driving, including weaving, hitting the rumble strips, missing your exit or turn, blinking and yawning, and not remembering the last few miles driven.
- When appropriate, pull over and call for help or switch drivers. Using your parents’ trick of turning up the radio is not enough to keep you safe on the road.
- Be aware that your brain may operate differently late at night. According to neurologists at Mass General, your brain’s chemicals change at night, resulting in negative changes in attitudes and behavior.
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. Ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top 10 hospitals for rehabilitation and the best in the Southeast, Shepherd Center treats more than 850 inpatients and 7,600 outpatients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.