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Sunday, December 22, 2019

A travel hazard worse than drunk driving

You may find it surprising to learn that vehicle accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.

Drowsy driving alone is worse than driving drunk.

That may seem like a controversial or irresponsible thing to say, and I do not wish to trivialize the lamentable act of drunk driving by any means. Yet my statement is true for the following simple reason: drunk drivers are often late in braking, and late in making evasive maneuvers. But when you fall asleep, or have a microsleep, you stop reacting altogether.

A person who experiences a microsleep or who has fallen asleep at the wheel does not brake at all, nor do they make any attempt to avoid the accident. As a result, car crashes caused by drowsiness tend to be far more deadly than those caused by alcohol or drugs.

Said crassly, when you fall asleep at the wheel of your car on a freeway, there is now a one-ton missile traveling at 65 miles per hour, and no one is in control.

Drivers of cars are not the only threats.

More dangerous are drowsy truckers.

Approximately 80 percent of truck drivers in the US are overweight, and 50 percent are clinically obese. This places truck drivers at a far, far higher risk of a disorder called sleep apnea, commonly associated with heavy snoring, which causes chronic, severe sleep deprivation.

As a result, these truck drivers are 200 to 500 percent more likely to be involved in a traffic accident. And when a truck driver loses his or her life in a drowsy-driving crash, they will, on average, take 4.5 other lives with them.

In actual fact, I would like to argue that there are no accidents caused by fatigue, microsleeps, or falling asleep. None whatsoever.

They are crashes.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines accidents as unexpected events that happen by chance or without apparent cause. Drowsy-driving deaths are neither chance, nor without cause. They are predictable and the direct result of not obtaining sufficient sleep. As such, they are unnecessary and preventable. …

There are many things that I hope readers take away from this book. This is one of the most important: if you are drowsy while driving, please, please stop. It is lethal.

To carry the burden of another’s death on your shoulders is a terrible thing.

Don’t be misled by the many ineffective tactics people will tell you can battle back against drowsiness while driving. Many of us think we can overcome drowsiness through sheer force of will, but, sadly, this is not true. To assume otherwise can jeopardize your life, the lives of your family or friends in the car with you, and the lives of other road users.

Some people only get one chance to fall asleep at the wheel before losing their life. If you notice yourself feeling drowsy while driving, or actually falling asleep at the wheel, stop for the night.

If you really must keep going—and you have made that judgment in the life-threatening context it genuinely poses—then pull off the road into a safe layby for a short time.

Take a brief nap (twenty to thirty minutes).

When you wake up, do not start driving. You will be suffering from sleep inertia—the carryover effects of sleep into wakefulness.

Wait for another twenty to thirty minutes, perhaps after having a cup of coffee if you really must, and only then start driving again.

This, however, will only get you so far down the road before you need another such recharge, and the returns are diminishing.

Ultimately, it is just not worth the (life) cost.
Source: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

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