Before dawn, the dark grey sedan drifted back and forth across the yellow lines and struggled to stay straight in the black early morning. The vehicle crossed the lines for the last time just after the “S” curves and headed into the oncoming lane. The drift didn’t stop and it continued across the road and down into the bar ditch. The depth of the bar ditch launched the vehicle and its sleeping driver high up into the air. The rear of the vehicle violently struck a telephone pole and left a severe scar crippling the pole at ten feet. The car spun off the pole and impacted into the freshly plowed field below. The spin was enough to throw the sleeping driver out into the soft dirt. He laid there unconscious in the field until the dawn’s light allowed another driver to see the shattered remains of his car.
Our sleepy driver could have died several times that morning. Weaving into oncoming traffic, crashing into the pole, being thrown into a field and being unconscious in the cold for a few hours would have killed most people. Being asleep at the wheel will kill others we know this year. It is estimated that approximately 6,400 people will be killed in sleep-deprived crashes this year. How many times will we get behind the wheel too tired to drive?
General Motors tested the basic reflexes of a person that was sleep deprived with five hours or less sleep and found sleep deprived drivers had the same reflex responses of intoxicated drivers with a blood alcohol content of 0.15%. Those reflexes are equivalent to someone impaired almost twice the presumed legal limit to drive. Just because your eyes are half opened doesn’t mean that your body is able to drive and respond correctly.
To prevent being impaired, you need to have a minimum of seven hours of sleep. You can’t drink alcohol before driving and hope that you won’t become drowsy. Many types of medications can make you drowsy so read all the labels. If you find that the label tells you not to operate heavy machinery, a five thousand pound car can count as heavy machinery. Limit driving between midnight and six a.m. when most drowsy driving crashes occur.
As soon as you feel drowsy, pull over. Taking a short nap of 15 to 20 minutes can work wonders and save your life. Consuming the caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee can also help. Remember that caffeine can take 20 to 30 minutes to take effect. Opening windows and turning up the stereo have a limited effect for most people.