The AAUI President cautions you on the (very real) hazards of driving drowsy. Only recently, our very own Jared Solomon wound up in a lake, because his driver fell asleep at the wheel.
Feeling sleepy behind the wheel? If, yes, the best thing to do is pull over someplace safe, and take a nap. Driver fatigue or drowsiness dulls your mind, slows reaction time, reduces alertness and concentration, impairs judgment and increases your risk of crashing.
Physical, mental and emotional fitness to drive outweighs many other hazards that we may face on the road. Even a simple headache or cold affects our ability to drive safely. We must, therefore, be as objective as possible about our physical fitness to drive at any time. If necessary, we should postpone our journey or have someone else drive.
Many road crashes occur due to drivers dozing off behind the wheel. Ask yourself an honest question – how many times have you fallen asleep, even if only momentarily, while driving?
Driving while sleep-deprived has reached alarming levels, and the risk, danger, and often tragic results of drowsy driving are worrying. Also, it’s hard to predict the exact moment when a motorist may nod off, even if only for a few seconds. The number of car crashes due to drowsy driving are underestimated, as drivers are reluctant to admit it. So, it’s not always possible to attribute or identify drowsiness as a crash factor. The reason often cited is the vehicles’ loss of control due to a sudden mechanical fault.
Circumstantial evidence that an accident was caused by the driver falling asleep includes slow reaction time in hitting the brakes, bumping into the rear of other vehicles, and running oneself off the road in clear visibility and good road conditions.
Another factor that contributes to the risk of drowsy driving accidents is the use of alcohol. It’s easier to find out whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol. If the driver’s blood alcohol level is high then the accident is classified under drunken driving. The combination of alcohol, even small amounts, and sleep deprivation, exacerbates driver sleepiness.
Also, the longer the duration of the drive, the more easy it is to fall asleep. However, studies abroad have shown that falling asleep while driving can occur even after a short period of driving, especially on highways and straight roads. Therefore, it’s foolhardy to assume that one cannot fall asleep in the early part of a drive or during a short drive.
Drowsy driving is a major problem, not only on Indian highways but also in developed countries like the USA where 6,000 fatal crashes are caused every year by drowsy drivers. As many as 846 lives were lost in 2014, according to the US Department of Transportation. It’s a known fact that drowsiness impairs road sense, which leads to mishaps and fatalities. According to a survey published in the International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR), during the last five months, over 43 persons were killed on the state and national highways of Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Lucknow.
The most important step is to realise how common and potentially fatal this problem is. Lack of awareness about drowsy driving amounts to criminal negligence. By forgetting or brushing aside preventive steps, we’re putting at risk ourselves, our families, our friends and other road users. And if you do feel sleepy, make alternative arrangements instead of driving – or simply pull over at a safe spot and catch up on your sleep. Most drivers cannot tell if, or when, they are about to fall asleep. When drowsy, you can fall asleep for just a few seconds – enough time for something awful to happen. So, it’s best to avoid the temptation to go just that little bit further.
T.K. Malhotra is the President of the Automobile Association of Upper India (AAUI).