New York Motorists Reminded of Dangers of Drowsy Driving

March 8, 2012 Updated Mar 8, 2012 at 3:45 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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New York Motorists Reminded of Dangers of Drowsy Driving

March 8, 2012 Updated Mar 8, 2012 at 3:45 PM EDT

Albany, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and Chair of the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee on Thursday used the occasion of the upcoming switch to Daylight Saving Time to remind motorists of the dangers of drowsy driving.

Daylight Saving Time goes into effect this year on Sunday, March 11.

"In thousands of crashes each year on our highways, drowsiness or fatigue is reported as a contributing factor," Fiala said in a news release. "Motorists must be cognizant of the warning signs of fatigue and avoid driving while drowsy, particularly as we make the adjustment to Daylight Saving Time."

According to the news release:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that each year 100,000 crashes reported to police are caused by drowsy driving or driver fatigue. NHTSA estimates that those crashes result in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses annually.

According to the National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) 2012 “Sleep in America” poll, about one in ten Americans say they are likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, such as while driving. The poll, which focused on transportation workers, found that 11 percent of pilots, train operators, bus, taxi, and limo drivers and 8 percent of commercial truck drivers have experienced drowsiness while on the job. In comparison, the rate for non-transportation workers is 7 percent, according to the poll.

Besides commercial truck drivers, drivers at highest risk for crashes due to drowsy driving include: late-night shift workers; parents taking care of young children; people with untreated sleep disorders; and young drivers. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading killer of young people ages 16-24, and fatigue is a common contributing factor. Studies show that 36 percent of teens drive drowsy on a regular basis and, out of all of the crashes caused by fatigue, 55 percent involve drivers under the age of 25.

While falling asleep at the wheel is the most obvious example, drowsy driving can be as simple as not paying attention while driving. Warning signs of drowsy driving include difficulty in keeping one's eyes open, repeated yawning, wandering or disconnected thoughts, drifting from the driving lane and failure to remember the last few miles driven.

Motorists should always get adequate sleep before driving and take breaks every two hours or 100 miles. Bringing a passenger on long trips to provide company and share driving responsibilities is also recommended. Motorists should never drink alcohol before driving, and drivers should always be aware of the potential for drowsiness and other side effects of any medications they might be taking.

The common strategies for avoiding drowsy driving, such as opening a window, turning on air conditioning or playing loud music, will not overcome fatigue, and caffeine offers only a short-term increase in driver alertness. The only effective countermeasure for drowsiness is to find a safe place to pull over for a rest or to sleep for the night.