By Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
On September 5, 2008, 8-year-old Ronshay Dugans was on the way to an afterschool program when the driver of a cement truck fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed into the back of her school bus. Ronshay was killed in the crash. Two years later, the Florida Legislature passed the Ronshay Dugans Act that designated the first week of September as “Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.”
A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that at least 50% of adults have admittedly driven while drowsy, and 20% have fallen asleep at the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 100,000 reported crashes involving drowsy driving; however, the number is likely significantly higher since it is difficult to determine whether a driver was drowsy at the time of a crash.
Like drunk driving, drowsy driving kills. Prescription medications, lack of sleep, work, undiagnosed disorders like sleep apnea, and jet-lag can cause drowsiness. Drowsiness impacts your reaction time, decreases awareness of your surroundings, and impairs your judgement.
Before hitting the road, make sure you get enough sleep (seven to nine hours for adults, eight to ten for teenagers) and confirm that any medications you take don’t cause drowsiness. For longer trips, schedule stops every 100 miles or every two hours and ask a friend to tag along to help you stay awake and focused.
Once you’re behind the wheel, monitoring yourself for warning signs of drowsiness is crucial. Some common warning signs are frequent blinking, difficulty focusing on the road, having trouble remembering the last few miles driven, drifting from your lane, and the feeling of restlessness or disconnected thoughts. If you notice yourself experiencing any of these pull over to a safe place to get some rest, stretch or get a caffeinated beverage. Once you feel alert and refreshed, it’s safe to continue driving.
Crashes caused by drowsiness are 100% preventable. The rush to get to where you’re going is not worth risking your safety and the safety of others. Taking the time to check your alertness could save you from a potentially life changing accident.