It’s happened to many of us: You’re driving down the highway, lulled by the hum of the engine and the repetition of the scenery. You start to feel sleepy and your eyelids begin to droop, and perhaps you find your head dipping down. Suddenly you’re jolted wide awake by the jarring sound of your tires on the rumble strip. You’ve just narrowly avoided a car accident caused by your own drowsy driving.

Falling asleep at the wheel is clearly dangerous, yet extremely common. Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in which 1 out of 24 drivers surveyed admitted to nodding off while driving at least once during the previous month. And because many people may not even realize that they’ve lost consciousness for even a second or two, that figure may even be higher.

The study identified those most susceptible to falling asleep while driving: Drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 years old and people who got less than six hours of sleep each night. Texas drivers also had higher incidences of drowsy driving. Unemployed or retired drivers were less likely to drive while fatigued, as were students — despite seemingly busier schedules filled with late-night studying.

You may have your own tricks for staying awake while you’re driving. Many people drive with the windows open or the radio cranked up. Others rely on caffeine. But CDC officials say the best protection against falling asleep at the wheel is adequate rest. This is especially true for commercial truckers and others who drive for a living. After all, it only takes one or two seconds for a crash to happen. A vehicle traveling 60 mph travels 88 feet per second — plenty of time to run off the road or head-on into another car.

If you find yourself nodding off, either pull off the road for a nap or switch drivers, if you have a passenger who can take over for you. It may be difficult to get adequate rest every night, but it’s impossible to take back the few seconds in which a car accident seriously injures or kills someone.

Source: York Daily Record, “Study finds drivers are snoozing while cruising,” Mike Argento, Jan. 4, 2012

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