Beware of Drowsy Driving

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ROAD SAFETY WITH JONAS AGWU

Have you ever driven fatigued? Or have you been caught sleep- driving or falling asleep behind the wheels? I need you to sincerely answer these questions as falling asleep on the wheels is becoming a great concern to authorities. If you don’t know, driving drowsy is impaired driving. Driving drowsy is as dangerous as driving and phoning or driving under the influence. On several occasions, we have rescued drivers who crashed because they slept off the steering while on motion. There are cases where the crash occurred at night and cases where it was normal day time driving. Also pronounced are crashes involving night life crooners who, like multitasking freaks boast of their capacities and abilities to drive even after taking a bottle too many. This write up is not about drink- driving but about drivers who drive fatigued or drowsy.

I remember vividly the case of a friend of mine who almost lost his life along the Ajaokuta-Lokoja road some years ago. According to his story, he left Enugu after attending a social function and stopped over a pharmacist to get cough syrup which he took before embarking on the journey. After a few hours of driving, he dozed off and lost control. He was lucky that the vehicle didn’t veer too far away from the highway because he was driving at what we call common sense speed. He was also lucky that the damage on the car was minor and that there were no injuries sustained. Some others have not been that lucky. Some have ended up with serious life threatening injuries while some lost their life in the process.

Available records rarely reveal the state of the driver before the crash; whether he was fatigued or not.

In some other climes there exist some appropriate structures and technology to capture this, if not all. Allow me again to share this material which reveals that drowsy driving is impaired driving. According to the National Sleep Foundation in the United States of America, about half of adult drivers admit to consistently getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy. About twenty percent admit falling asleep behind the wheel at some point in the past year while more than forty percent admit that this has happened at least once in their driving careers.

These startling figures show how prevalent drowsy driving is. What drivers may not realize is how much drowsy driving puts themselves and other road users at risk. In fact, an estimated 5,000 people died in 2015 in crashes involving drowsy driving, according to a report in the United States of America. Now that the Federal Road Safety Corps has set up Station Offices across the country, I am confident that our record in this direction will henceforth get better. I pray that victims will be bold to say the truth instead of concealing the reasons behind the crash.

Driving while drowsy, like I stated earlier is similar to driving under the influence of alcohol. I am sure that some drinking freaks would carpet me for this, especially the real drinkers. Before they drag me to the slaughter slab, I need them to know that a drivers’ reaction times, awareness of hazards and ability to sustain attention all worsen the drowsier the driver is. The report further states that driving after going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08percent which is the U.S. legal limit while Nigeria’s is 0.5gms or 0.05percent of blood alcohol concentration(BAC). As a driver, you should know that you are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued. This is why our National Road Traffic Regulations,2012 recommends a fifteen minutes’ rest after four hours of driving. I know that some drivers comply with this rule. The irony however, is that instead of truly resting for fifteen minutes, they indulge in the habit that worsens the state of drowsiness. It is common to see these drivers while resting, order for a bottle or two of alcoholic beverages to ‘clear their sight or vision’

The strange thing about driving fatigued is that a driver might not even know when he or she is fatigued because signs of fatigue are hard to identify. Some people may also experience micro sleep – short, involuntary periods of inattention. In the 4 or 5 seconds a driver experiences micro-sleep, at highway speed, the vehicle will travel the length of a football field. I told you that our records are being fine-tuned to enable us to properly capture these incidents.

Despite the difficulty in determining whether a driver was drowsy as at the time of a crash, the case in the United States of America will shock you. Their data reveals that there is prevalence of drowsy driving crashes. The available data reveals that every year, there are about one hundred thousand reported crashes involving drowsy driving. These crashes result in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries. The real number, the report however notes, may be much higher. However, it is difficult to determine whether a driver was drowsy at the time of a crash in some cases.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 320,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually. This figure is more than three times the reported number. The same study found that 109,000 of those drowsy driving crashes resulted in an injury and about 6,400 were fatal. The researchers suggest the prevalence of drowsy driving fatalities is more than 350percent greater than reported. Beyond the human toll caused by drowsy driving, there is also is the economic one. They estimate that fatigue-related crashes resulting in injury or death cost the American society about $109 billion annually, not including property damage. I couldn’t have the figure for our clime although globally, it is said that countries lose about three percent of their annual Gross Domestic Product through crashes.

What then are the signs and symptoms of drowsy driving? The following are signs and symptoms of drowsy driving. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine frequent yawning or difficulty keeping your eyes open is one of the signs while nodding off or having trouble keeping your head up is another.

There are cases where the driver experiences the inability to remember driving the last few miles. Other signs include missing road signs or turns, difficulty in maintaining speed as well as drifting out of your lane

What then are the interventions for drowsy driving? First you must know that drowsy driving affects everyone irrespective of age, but especially those under age 25, who make up an estimated fifty percent or more drowsy driving crashes. What this means is that interventions focusing on this age group especially the males can help reduce drowsy driving among those vulnerable. One such intervention is for parents to incorporate discussions and rules on drowsy driving with their children.

There are other ways to reduce drowsy driving. They include crash avoidance technologies. There are new and existing safety technologies, such as drowsiness alert and lane departure warnings , that can detect common drowsy driving patterns and warn drivers to stay in their lane or take a break The Universities are not left out as they have their own interventions because college students receive less than six hours sleep a night. Therefore, education programs aimed at college students may help curb drowsy driving and instill healthier behaviors that can last into adulthood. Experts on sleep medicine advice that adults should get seven or more hours of sleep each night.