Sleep deprivation is a serious matter for teens. Sleepiness can impair drivers by causing slower reaction times, vision impairment, lapses in judgment and delays in processing information. The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep-deprived drivers react as poorly as drunk drivers. In fact, studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal limit in all states.
Of the estimated 100,000 car crashes a year linked to drowsy driving, almost half involve drivers ages 15 to 24, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The numbers could be even higher than reported because “sleepiness doesn’t show up on the autopsy.”
A recent survey conducted by the AAA Foundation found that young people are more likely to drive drowsy. Specifically, one in seven licensed drivers ages 16-24 admitted to having nodded off at least once while driving in the past year as compared to one in ten of all licensed drivers who confessed to falling asleep during the same period.
According to the American Psychological Association, the brain needs to rest when it learns a new skill. During rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, the new information moves into to long-term memory. For optimal functioning, teens need nine hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night, although realistically they can function on eight hours and 15 minutes.
Characteristics of Drowsy-Driving Crashes
Subjective and objective tools are available to approximate or detect sleepiness. However, unlike the situation with alcohol-related crashes, no blood, breath, or other measurable test is currently available to quantify levels of sleepiness at the crash site. Although current understanding largely comes from inferential evidence, a typical crash related to sleepiness has the following characteristics.
- The problem occurs during late night/early morning or late afternoon.
- The crash is likely to be serious.
- The crash involves a single vehicle leaving the roadway.
- The crash occurs on a high-speed road.
- The driver does not attempt to avoid the crash.
- The driver is alone in the vehicle.
Recognize the Signs of Drowsy Driving
Farm Bureau Insurance of Idaho wants you and your teens to safely recognize the signs of drowsy driving. The following warning signs indicate that it’s time to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over and address your condition:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
- Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
- Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven
- Missing exits or traffic signs
- Yawning repeatedly
- Feeling restless, irritable, or aggressive.
Prevent Drowsy Driving
Prevention Tips for Teens and Parents: http://drowsydriving.org
- Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
- Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It’s better to allow the time to 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. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.
- Take a nap—find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
- Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
- Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.