With heavy Thanksgiving meals on the menu and hours worth of traveling on the road projected for the next few days, nodding off behind the wheel becomes a legitimate concern, particularly for younger drivers.
Jenny Robinson, spokesperson and manager for the Philadelphia Public & Government Affairs of the AAA Mid-Atlantic, said that a survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety pointed to drivers aged 16 to 24 running an increased risk for drowsy driving.
“[The survey] found that younger drivers are more likely to drive while drowsy and that one in seven licensed drivers ages 16 to 24 did nod off at least once while driving in the past year," Robinson said.
When the same survey was performed on the general population of licensed drivers, it was found that one out of 10 admitted to nodding off, pinpointing the increased frequency in the younger subset, Robinson said.
Katie Kolanda (senior-psychology) said that the dire consequences of drowsy driving are all too familiar for her.
“One of my best friends died from [drowsy driving],” she said.
Kolanda said her friend was 19 years old and on leave from the military. He fell asleep at the wheel, fatally crashing into a tree, according to police, she said.
Diandra Fried (senior-psychology) said that she has personally experienced drowsy driving particularly when she takes long rides.
“I started experiencing that when driving back and forth from school because it is a four hour drive," she said.
“Now I make sure I take a Red Bull or caffeine to make sure I can stay alert."
While Robinson said that it is hard to single out specific factors contributing to this, she said that traveling home for the holidays this time around may be a possible reason for an increase in this behavior for younger adults. She said part of it is young drivers underestimate the risks of drowsy driving.
“Young drivers are usually very alert, healthy and they think they will be fine," Robinson said. "They think it won’t be a problem, but you can’t really control the fact that being drowsy does affect our ability to drive no matter how alert you are or how fit you are.”
Robinson emphasized that, while one may not feel physically tired, there are signs that he or she may be mentally exhausted and thereby not alert enough to steer the wheel.
Such indications of drowsiness include, but are not limited to, feeling your eyelids growing heavy, having a hard time keeping your eyes open, yawning, rubbing your eyes and having trouble remembering the last several miles you drove. Realizing you have missed your exit or traffic signs, drifting out of the lane, daydreaming and having a hard time focusing are additional red flags that one may be displaying drowsy driving, Robinson said.
Putting the potential dangers of drowsy driving into perspective, Robinson said, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this behavior accounts for more than 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries and 1550 deaths annually on the national level.
As for precautions, Robinson added that stocking up on stimulating beverages does not adequately counteract that fact that a worn off body is in need of rest and sleep.
“Really the best thing is to get enough sleep the night before a long trip," she said. "By plenty I mean seven hours, which is what most people need to feel well rested."
Robinson further offered that one should not be traveling at times he or she would normally be sleeping.
“We don’t recommend that you drive all night. Even professional truck drivers are not supposed to do that,” she said.
Taking regular breaks, scheduling trips for when you will be awake, driving with a companion and avoiding heavy food could serve as preemptive measures, Robinson said.