On Duty with the CHP: Avoid drowsy driving

Driving when tired is nearly as bad as driving under the influence, the CHP says.
Driving when tired is nearly as bad as driving under the influence, the CHP says. Special to The Bee

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile collisions, 71,000 injuries and 1,150 deaths.

Among all major factors that cause or contribute to collisions, such as speeding, alcohol use and weather, drowsiness is the most difficult for law enforcement to detect. Lack of sleep has serious consequences at home, in the workplace, at school and on the roadways.

Sleepiness in California in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available in the CHP’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, contributed to 4,284 collisions, injuring 2,046 people and killing 28. This is 28 funerals and 28 families mourning the loss of their loved ones. This is way too many people.

A recent survey by the American Automobile Association Foundation found 41 percent of drivers admit to having fallen asleep or nodded off while driving at some point in their lives. I know I have driven extremely fatigued and at times have been very sleepy while driving.

“Like alcohol and drugs, sleep loss or fatigue impairs driving skills, such as hand-eye coordination, reaction time, decision making and judgment,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said. “Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cognitive impairment after approximately 18 hours awake is similar to that of someone with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05 percent. After about 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, higher than the legal limit in all states. In addition, lower levels of alcohol (below the legal limit) amplify the effects of inadequate sleep.

Here are some tips to remain alert:

▪ Get plenty of sleep the night before a long trip.

▪ Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles.

▪ Stop driving if you become sleepy.

▪ Don’t plan to work all day and then drive all night.

▪ If you become fatigued, find a safe place to take a 20-30 minute rest.

“Drowsy driving is especially concerning for our young drivers,” Farrow said. “Traffic collisions are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in the United States, ending more young lives every day than cancer, homicide and suicide combined, and sleep-related collisions are most common in young people, who tend to stay up late, sleep too little, and drive at night.”

There are some common signs of drowsy driving:

▪ Having trouble keeping your eyes open and focused.

▪ Drifting from your lane or tailgating.

▪ Yawning frequently or rubbing your eyes repeatedly.

▪ Missing signs or driving past your intended exit.

▪ Being unable to remember how far you have traveled or what you have recently passed.

If you experience any of these warning signs, pull over in a safe location and rest. Please do not risk your life or the lives of others by pushing your body to the limit. Give yourself a break and listen to what your body is telling you. Drive safe, alert, and stay awake!

Officer Traci Gallian can be reached at tagallian@chp.ca.gov. For more from the CHP Central Division, go to the division’s Facebook page.