I've been spending the last week trying to figure out how it would be possible for me to drive without being drowsy. I don't have trouble keeping my eyes open and I don't finding myself falling asleep at the wheel, but do find myself feeling "drowsy" quite a bit. Not all the time, mind you, I'm only drowsy around 17 hours a day, you know, the period during which I'm awake. The rest of the time, I'm fine.
This soul-searching was triggered by the release of a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington. The AAA (American Automobile Association) studied 2,000 drivers and found that 10 per cent had fallen asleep at the wheel and more than 25 per cent had continued driving even though they were having trouble keeping their eyes open. The report shows that two out of five drivers admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel.
Such soporific motoring is dangerous. Numbers from the U.S. National highway Traffic Safety Administration collected between 1998 and 2008 shows that one in six deadly crashes involves a drowsy driver.
Here are some of the universal signs from drowsydriving.org that you're sleep deprived:
- Frequent blinking, longer duration blinks and head nodding.
- Having trouble keeping one’s eyes open and focused.
- Memory lapses or daydreaming.
- Drifting from one’s driving lane or off the road.
I don't know about you, but if you substitute "driving off the road" for "consuming caffeine as if it were sunshine," I'm a yes for all of the above. We're a sleep-deprived, car-obsessed society so it's not surprising that we're all nodding off behind the wheel.
The report had me wondering: What leads a rational human being to drive in a state of semi-slumber? Drunk drivers are impaired. They aren't thinking straight. Alcohol is the kind of drug that makes thoughts such as "Why don't I punch that cop?" and "Everyone in my family is hiding my socks" seem reasonable. Yet being tired doesn't make you lose the ability to be rational. No one ever said, "Wow, I only got three hours of sleep last night, I think I'll hit on my best friend's wife."
No. We drive sleepy for the same reasons we text behind the wheel – because we're wallowing in delusions of self-grandeur. We have somewhere important to be and we have to be there at a certain time. Failure to accomplish these goals would result in us merely doing them a little later and that would be catastrophic.
Drowsy drivers can be divided into five categories:
The Determined Dad
One of the most common, especially in the summer months, is the grim parent determined to beat cottage traffic. He fears delays and wants to beat the rush. So this guy gets the family up at three in the morning and loads them into the minivan he stayed up until one in the morning loading. He gets a coffee in his driving mug and off they go with his eyes bloodshot and everyone else in the car dozing.
The Commercial Trucker
While truckers are some of the most skilled drivers on the road, they are also the most sleep-deprived. According to the website drowsydriving.org: "A congressionally mandated study of 80 long-haul truck drivers in the United States and Canada found that drivers averaged less than five hours of sleep per day." Ten-four, good buddy!
The most dangerous drivers on the road are drowsy drunks. Motorists suffering from severe, life-altering hangovers come in a close second. Thinking goes as follows: "I drank a bottle of gin, but I had four hours sleep so I'm okay to drive."
The Living Dead (a.k.a. The Commuter)
It's five in the afternoon and he (or she) has put in a long day at the office or at the one functioning factory left in Canada. He gets in his car and turns the music up loud, hoping this will keep him from nodding off in stop-and-go traffic. He has a dream in which a giant metronome is ticking and awakes to find that there is a police officer rapping loudly on his window.
Sleep, remember that? Thanks to computers, cellphones and 24-hour news cycles, we're all sleep-deprived. Teens don't sleep because they're online all the time and their parents lose sleep worrying about it. Oh, for the good old days. Remember back in the 1930s when the only things that kept a man up at night were the Great Depression and the rise of fascism? Never such sweet innocence again.
What can we do? Well, for starters, get some rest. We can also put our plans and destinations in perspective. If you're tired, take a nap before you drive or don't drive at all. We'll get there when we get there. Let's make 2013 the year that we, as a planet, decide it's okay to arrive behind schedule. When it comes to drowsy driving it's, better late – than never.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy
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