By Scott Prater
It’s difficult to determine how many automobile crashes involve drivers who have dozed off at the wheel each year because drivers have to admit they’ve fallen asleep or witnesses must exist to inform authorities.
People often hear of the dangers of mixing alcohol, drugs or texting and driving, but driver fatigue is seldom mentioned as a major cause of mishaps, at least in national public awareness campaigns.
“Awareness of driver fatigue is growing, however,” said Tech. Sgt. Sarah Law, 50th Space Wing NCOIC of ground safety. “This week has been deemed National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week by the National Sleep Foundation and recognized nationwide, so it’s a good time for us to promote awareness about the problem.”
With the biggest travel day of the year (Thanksgiving) a couple weeks away, timing for the campaign couldn’t be better.
“I think it gets people thinking about it early, which is one of the prevention techniques we promote,” Sergeant Law said. “Our goal is to build awareness and provide warnings for drivers, especially young people and shift workers, which we have a lot of in the Air Force and here at Schriever.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of adult drivers say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy, and one third of those say they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Four percent admit they’ve been involved in a crash or near crash because they’ve either dozed off or were too tired to drive.
People under 25 are one of the most vulnerable groups because they spend more hours behind the wheel during the late night or early morning hours. Shift workers are six times more likely to be involved in a crash linked to driver fatigue.
“The Air Force has targeted the under-25 folks for awareness campaigns because of the normal pitfalls associated with their age,” Sergeant Law said. “They often feel invincible and they tend to push their limits. So we have a set curriculum we present during their first term Airman training.”
This week, Sergeant Law has been sending out base-wide bulletins, providing information about drowsy driving and tips and advice for preventing it.
“The main thing is to create a plan, especially when traveling or driving long distances,” Sergeant Law said. “The main thing is to get a good night’s sleep and keep to your normal sleep routine. If you normally get eight hours, don’t try to drive after only four. It’s also a good idea to drive with someone. That way you can share the driving duties and have someone there who can notice signs of drowsiness. And get off the road if you start to notice some of the warning signs of fatigue. Basically, if you’re having to find things to keep you alert like opening the window or blaring your stereo, then you need to stop for a while.”
Proper travel plans include asking questions such as: how long should it take to get from point A to point B, how many breaks are adequate and how long are reasonable breaks.
“Just because someone has ‘successfully’ made a long road trip a dozen times in the past doesn’t guarantee that this time the conditions and result will be the same,” said 50th Space Wing Chief of Safety, Lt. Col. Michael Wulfestieg. “Being in a hurry does not go good at all if you never arrive at your destination. And don’t forget the risk is not only to you, but you are exposing every other driver and passenger you share the road with to your possibly out-of-control car. At least be considerate of them.”
For more information on recognizing the symptoms of fatigue behind the wheel, drowsiness and driving, or tips for planning your next trip contact the 50th Space Wing Safety office at 567-2848.