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Driving Safety: Today's New Rules - Drowsy Driving
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Driving Safety: Today's New Rules
Drowsy Driving
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MFD: If I get sleepy on the road, should I just pull over on the shoulder and take a nap?
Pulling over on the shoulder involves a higher degree of risk, of course, than, say, if you pulled off at a rest area—especially one that has 24-hour security. That would probably be optimal.

Next best would be probably a 24-hour convenience store or somewhere where there’s other people—in terms of personal security, and, as well, you’re probably less likely to be run into by another vehicle if you’re in a rest stop or a parking lot as opposed to right alongside the road. If somebody eased out of their lane just a couple of feet and they’re driving right at you at 70 miles an hour, that could be a very bad situation.


Before your road trip, check out to chart out the zaniest roadside attractions along your route.

A Stonehenge replica made of junked cars in Alliance, Neb.
Photo courtesy

MFD: What if I just keep driving and don’t stop?
Drowsy-driving crashes tend to occur at higher velocity. The injuries tend to be worse than, say, alcohol-related crashes.

And if you think that through, it’s like, if I’m driving and I’ve got alcohol in my system, my eyes are probably still open. … I might not be good at decision or action but I might at least have a chance of perceiving something’s ahead of me …. If my eyes are shut … I’m on cruise control at 70 miles an hour, and full speed ahead--right into other vehicles or stationary objects.

For people driving even during the day, sleep can creep up on you. Half the sleep-related crashes, the driver doesn’t perceive any warning signs--yawning, having a hard time keeping your eyes open, that sort of thing.

MFD: Really? So they just fall asleep?
Mm-hm. They just fall asleep without warning. So I think the point is there that we can’t be guaranteed that our body will send us signals that, “Hey, you’re tired.” In about half the cases it just shuts down.

MFD: What should you do to prevent that?
Before you’re starting on your summer trip, get a good night’s rest. … In many cases, the family’s packing up, and they stay up until 11, 12, 1 a.m., cramming all the stuff in the car ….

And you also, second, want to make sure that you drive during the times of day when you’re normally awake. … So starting out at 10 p.m. and driving through the night—while it might be convenient, it can be very risky.

And third, you want to watch out for that afternoon dip in energy. Anywhere between 1 and 4 usually, most people have about a two-hour period where their circadian rhythm kind of takes a little dip and sleep is more likely. So statistically we see a spike in drowsy-driving crashes in the afternoon--not nearly as high as, say, midnight to 1 a.m. to 5 or 6 a.m., but you have that spike in the afternoon.

MFD: Is there anything else you want to add?
A key point that we make is you always just want to get better. You may be a fantastic driver, but there are a lot of drivers on the road who aren’t, and so you need to be even better than you are to avoid problems that other drivers might cause.

AAA offers driver-improvement training programs in certain areas. Visit for more information.

Last updated and/or approved: October 2007.
Original article appeared in summer 2007 issue.

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