Asleep at the wheel?
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING Dee Walter and her husband are American nomads.
Published: January 10, 2013
Published: January 10, 2013
"We are full-time RV'ers and travel all summer – about 7,000 miles in five months," Walter said.
He pulls a fifth-wheel trailer behind his pickup; she drives the car, so it's a problem when they both get sleepy.
If she's having a hard day just staying awake, they talk. "We have an amateur radio," Walter said, "but I mostly play the harmonica. I hear a song on the radio and try to copy it."
The Centers for Disease Control say one in every 24 drivers is just like Walter – fighting sometimes just to stay awake – and that's what causes one in every 40 accidents. Other studies suggest from 15 to 33 percent of fatal crashes should be blamed on drowsy drivers – 730 in 2009 alone.
Respondents were asked: "During the past 30 days, have you nodded off or fallen asleep, even just for a brief moment, while driving?"
Four percent said yes, in a 2009-10 government survey of 147,000 adults in 19 states released last week. Health officials think the real number is probably higher, because some people don't realize when they snooze for a second or two behind the wheel.
The CDC said that about 41 million Americans don't get enough sleep, but don't blame this one on women drivers or elderly drivers.
The study found drowsy driving was more common in people aged 25 to 34. Men were more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel, 5.3 to 3.2 percent. Texans admitted to the highest rate of drowsy driving; Oregonians the lowest, 6.1 to 2.5 percent. Whites were the least likely to say yes.
Sleep-related crashes are more likely to happen at night or during the midafternoon. Drowsy drivers are most likely to sleep less than six hours a night. Other factors: shift work, untreated sleep disorders and medications.
"Drowsiness impairs driving skills, even if drivers manage to stay awake," the CDC said. "Drowsiness slows reaction time, makes drivers less attentive, and impairs decision-making skills."
"This past summer, we traveled from Florida to the Midwest, then out west to Colorado, and then South through Texas to North Carolina and back to Florida," Walter said. "Even though we only drive four or five hours a day, it's hard to stay awake no matter how much sleep I've had. It's always been a problem with sleeping behind the wheel. Now I play, which keeps me alert and I'm learning at the same time.
If sleepy driving is scary in a car, try it on a 900-pound Harley Davidson, said Michael Nessy.
"Stayed up late one night in Miami. Left my friends' house heading back to Highlands County," Nessy said. "Thank the Lord that I decided to take the Florida Turnpike. I was going to head to the Jupiter exit and come through the woods to get to Highlands County. I fell asleep before the last plaza."
Both legs slipped off the foot pegs, and the pavement pulled them both backwards.
"I never lost control, though I had some very sore legs for about a week," Nessy said.
At the plaza, Nessy crawled from his motorcycle, sat inside and drank about five cups of coffee. "Sure did get a lot of looks from those state troopers in there at six in the morning."
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