Concern grows over 'driving drowsy'

Monday, September 13, 2010

There is growing concern regarding drowsy young people driving automobiles -- a significant problem among teens - especially now that our schools and colleges have begun classes for the new school year.

Indeed, overscheduled, overstressed, and overtired teens are a threat to themselves -- and others -- as they too often climb behind the wheel having had too little sleep. For example, 40 percent of teen drivers say they frequently drive while tired in the morning. Perhaps more significant, they report getting an average of only 7 hours of sleep on school nights.

And that can have costly outcomes.

According to the survey, young people who get less than eight hours of sleep per night on average are twice as likely to say they have fallen asleep at the wheel (20 percent) than are teens who report getting an average of eight or more hours of sleep per night (10 percent).

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says that the practice is an "under-reported and under-recognized public safety issue plaguing America's roadways," pointing out that it can be just as dangerous as impaired driving.

Drowsy driving causes more than 10,000 crashes each year, leading to 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Make no mistake about it, the combination of sleepiness, inexperience, and a tendency to drive at night and in the early morning hours puts young adults at risk for drowsy driving crashes.

Just as frightening are some of the strategies teens say they employ to try to stay awake.

*Playing loud music (45 percent)

*Talking on a cell phone (33 percent)

*Speeding (11 percent)

*Text messaging (11 percent)

What's a busy teen to do? Here are a couple of tips:

*Use the buddy system -- ask your passenger to stay awake during the drive, to help keep you awake, and to share the driving responsibilities.

*If sleepiness sets in while driving, prevent a crash by pulling over to find a safe place to take a nap.

Unfortunately, "early to bed, early to rise" doesn't synch well with suddenly nocturnal teens who are balancing late nights, early mornings, and jam-packed schedules. They want to do it all, but our job is to help them regulate competing demands in a way that keeps them safe behind the wheel.

After all, theirs, and other motorists lives depend on it.