In Oregon last year, 10 people died in crashes involving a drowsy driver, and 936 people were injured.
Across the country, 28 percent of American drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll, and more than half, 54 percent, said they have driven while drowsy. That’s a risk that could be fatal.
This year, “falling back one hour” could mean an extra hour of Halloween merriment, because adjusting our clocks to end daylight savings time occurs at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and safety advocates are reminding travelers – drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike – that you should adjust for that extra hour to ensure you don’t get sleepy when out on the roads in the days and nights following the clock adjustment.
It may take some planning ahead, experts say. For example, you can start adjusting your body on Thursday night by staying up 15 minutes later than normal; increase that on Friday and Saturday, and by Sunday, your body may be adjusted to the “extra” hour.
“Getting a good night’s sleep is the best way to fend off drowsy driving,” ODOT’s Safety Division administrator Troy E. Costales said. “And getting a couple of good night’s sleep in a row is even better.”
In the Pacific Northwest, everyone will set their clocks back one hour sometime Sunday morning (officially, it occurs at 2 a.m.). While it may seem like people will get an extra hour of sleep, that’s not always the case. Any change in a sleeping pattern can cause an inability to concentrate – and focus is an absolute requirement for traveling safely.
Watch for signs of drowsiness, and respond.
If you experience any of the following, it’s time to get off the road:
- Problems focusing, blinking frequently and/or having heavy eyelids.
- Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips.
- Trouble remembering the last few miles or missing exits or traffic signs.
- Trouble keeping your head up.
- Yawning repeatedly.
Rolling down the windows or turning up the radio to “keep you awake.”
Getting sleepy? Here’s what to do
Find a safe place to pull over right away, such as a rest area or a store parking lot. Studies show a 15-20 minute nap or walk is all it takes for most people to restore alertness and enhance performance – reducing what could be the risks of fatal mistakes.
The National Sleep Foundation suggests drinking a caffeinated beverage, then taking a quick nap, and you’ll get the benefits of both, because it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to have its impact on the body. Whatever you do, it’s important to listen to your body and respond appropriately.
FIRST: Take steps to prevent drowsy driving, riding or walking
Here are some tips from the experts:
- Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. Adequate sleep for most Americans means seven to nine hours.
- Going on a long drive in a vehicle? Use the buddy system – someone who is rested and awake for the journey and can take a turn behind the wheel or help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
- For drivers: If your trip is several hundred miles, take a break every 100 miles or 1½ – 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself, like eating something cold or frozen (avoid sugary snacks!) or going for a 10-minute walk.
- Avoid alcohol and monitor your medications. Many people unknowingly take prescription and over-the-counter drugs that contribute to drowsiness – being aware of your medications’ side effects can help you better manage your travel.
- Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
- Avoid driving, riding or walking at times when you would normally be asleep.
For more tips on how to “drive alert, arrive alive,” visit www.drowsydriving.org.