Editorial: Yes, drowsy driving is a big deal

While much attention is justifiably given to the problems of drunken driving and distracted driving, there is much less focus on drowsy driving. But individuals driving when extremely tired pose a serious problem that endangers more people than just the driver.

More than one in four motorists (28%) reported being so tired in the last month they had a hard time keeping their eyes open behind the wheel, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study.

Younger drivers most at risk

Drivers between ages 19 and 24 are especially at risk because they most likely drive while fatigued, according to the foundation’s 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index on Drowsy Driving. These young adults usually are less alert while driving than other age groups because they tend to stay up late and rise early.

On the other hand, the study disclosed that older drivers 75 years and up, and younger drivers between 16 and 18, were the least likely to drive while extremely fatigued. Older drivers tend to self-regulate their driving habits as their visual abilities change, while younger drivers are restricted from late-night drives because of graduated driver’s license requirements.

“Many drivers simply underestimate the problem of driving while extremely tired and overestimate their ability to deal with it,” said Lloyd P. Albert of AAA Southern New England.

To support the National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week campaign from Nov. 3 to 10, AAA released the study results, which highlight the risks of drowsy driving.

Causes lapses in judgment

Despite widespread disapproval of drowsy driving, it continues to be a significant threat to the motoring public because it slows reaction time, impairs vision and causes lapses in judgment — all actions that are similar to driving drunk.

“Many times a very fatigued driver may fall asleep for several seconds at the wheel without even realizing it,” Albert pointed out.

The foundation study also found that 95% of drivers believe it’s somewhat or completely unacceptable to drive when they’re so tired it is difficult to keep their eyes open, and 83% believe drowsy drivers pose a “somewhat” or “very serious” threat to their personal safety.

Warning signs

Some warnings signs that may signify drowsiness while driving are:

— The inability to recall the last few miles traveled.

— Having disconnected or wandering thoughts.

— Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open.

— Feeling as though your head is very heavy.

— Drifting out of your driving lane, perhaps driving on the rumble strips.

— Yawning repeatedly.

— Accidentally tailgating other vehicles.

— Missing traffic signs.

Stop and rest

If you find yourself driving while fatigued, AAA urges motorists to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Remember, an unnecessary accident can negatively impact the lives of many people. People can die, people can be maimed, and the person at fault can face a lot of liability.

For more information about drowsy driving, go to the National Sleep Foundation website at DrowsyDriving.org.