"Once we move the clocks back, the drive home from work or school for many [is likely] in the dark," says Fraydun Manocherian, founder and chairman of NRSF, a non-profit group that provides free driver safety films and programs for schools and other organizations.
"The time change coupled with earlier nightfall throws off the body's internal clock, making a combination that is a formula for drowsy driving – a condition many drivers fail to recognize,” adds Manocherian. “It can be as dangerous as drinking and driving."
Studies by the National Sleep Foundation last year show 60 percent of U.S. motorists have driven while feeling sleepy, and nearly 37 percent admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel.
The risk of drowsy driving is especially prevalent among teens, who tend to keep late hours and think they can function on minimal sleep.
NRSF has introduced a new teaching program, "Recognizing the Drowsy Driver." It includes two films with real-life vignettes of drowsy drivers and the tragic aftermath. It also has discussion guides and activities. More than 10,000 copies of the new program already have been distributed, free, for use by schools and other groups. The American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association, with more than 1,000 members, has showcased the program at its national meeting and has made copies available to its members.
The program teaches drivers to be alert to the signs of drowsiness while driving:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, rubbing eyes
- Daydreaming or not remembering the last few miles driven
- Head snaps, yawning
- Drifting out of your lane, tailgating or hitting shoulder rumble strips
If you experience any of these warning signs, pull over to a safe area and take a break, have a cup or two of coffee or caffeinated snack and, if possible, take a 20-minute nap. Allow 30 minutes for the caffeine to enter your bloodstream.
"Recognizing the signs of drowsy driving is part of being an educated, and thus a safer, driver," Manocherian says. "It's an important part of driver training, which begins when we are young and should continue throughout our driving lifetime."
Manocherian points to what he calls "the needless carnage on our roads and highways" caused by careless driving and bad choices such as drinking and driving, speeding, aggressive driving, distracted and drowsy driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics indicate more than 42,000 people died in traffic crashes last year, and hundreds of thousands more were injured, at a total estimated annual cost in excess of $250 billion.
"Education can help reduce these senseless tragedies," Manocherian adds. "The horrific annual cost to society emphasizes the need for consistent quality driver education that should be easily available and affordable for every new driver in high school. It is a financial commitment we must urge our leaders to make in order to stem this ongoing toll."
"Recognizing the Drowsy Driver" and other free programs can be downloaded at http://www.nationalroadsafety.org.