Asleep at the Wheel’

January 30, 2004

According to a Farmers Insurance survey, more than 10 percent of drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel, while more than 20 percent say they have momentarily dozed while driving.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that approximately 100,000 police-reported crashes annually involve drowsiness/fatigue as a principal causal factor. Those crashes result in an estimated 1,500 fatalities and 71,000 injuries each year, and an annual monetary loss of approximately $12.5 billion.

Referred to as “the silent killer” because it is so often overlooked as the cause of an accident, the full effect of drowsy driving is not yet known because reporting is imprecise, police are not trained to detect sleep-related crashes and there is no Breathalyzer-like test to determine whether someone was driving while dangerously drowsy.

“Driving while drowsy or fatigued is something that most drivers have experienced or will experience at some point,” said Greg Ciezadlo, vice president, Personal Lines, Auto Product Management for Farmers Insurance. “We need to raise the awareness of this problem and educate drivers on how to prevent it from happening.”

According to the Farmers survey, almost three times as many men (15.9 percent) than women (5.8 percent) said they had fallen asleep while driving.

Those ages 55 to 64 had the highest percentage of any age group surveyed (13.7 percent). Nearly twice as many (20.6 percent) of those surveyed said they had momentarily dozed while driving, including 28.6 percent of the male respondents. In addition, while 53.4 percent of all surveyed said they have felt drowsy while driving, 41.2 percent claimed they kept driving.

The most popular tactics those surveyed said they have used when they have become sleepy while they were driving were:

1. Stop driving or switch drivers (59.5 percent)

2. Open the windows or turn on the air conditioning (59.0 percent)

3. Listen to the radio or CDs (57.7 percent)

4. Stop to eat or drink (46.3 percent)

5. Drink caffeine (42.3 percent)

Other methods the respondents claimed to have used to stay awake at the wheel include talking or singing to themselves (31.7 percent), splashing water in their faces (18.4 percent) and slapping, hitting or pinching themselves (16.1 percent).

The American Institute of Chartered Personal Casualty Underwriters (AICPCU) insists “stay awake” behaviors such as exercising, turning on the radio and opening the windows are misconceptions and have not been proven to prevent sleep attacks.

Experts who have looked at this say the only safe way to combat drowsy driving is to take a 20-minute nap, then drive to the closest safe resting spot – such as a motel, friend’s house or your home — and sleep.

“With ‘drowsy driving’ on the increase,” Ciezadlo said, “it is increasingly important drivers do all they can to prevent this problem, including getting sufficient sleep and avoiding alcohol.”

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