Fall back, get drowsy: Tips for driving safety

ODOT warns: Changing clocks can raise danger on roads

SALEM, Ore. - The Oregon Department of Transportation is reminding motorists that this weekend's clock adjustment may also require adjustments in sleeping patterns to ensure you don't get sleepy behind the wheel.

"Getting a good night's sleep is the best way to fend off drowsy driving," said Troy E. Costales, ODOT's Safety Division administrator. And getting a couple of good night's sleep in a row is even better. That's why safety advocates encourage people to plan ahead and begin "re-setting" their body clocks on Friday for the Sunday morning change.

In the Pacific Northwest, everyone will set their clocks back one hour sometime Sunday morning (officially, it occurs at 2 a.m.). While it may seem like people will get an extra hour of sleep, that's not always the case. Any change in a sleeping pattern that can cause tiredness.

In Oregon last year, seven people died in crashes involving a drowsy driver, and 788 people were injured. Across the country, 28 percent of American drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll, and more than half (54 percent) said they have driven while drowsy. That's a risk that could be fatal.

Watch for signs of drowsiness, and respond

If you experience any of the following, it's time to get off the road:

  • Problems focusing, blinking frequently and/or having heavy eyelids.
  • Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips.
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven or missing exits or traffic signs.
  • Trouble keeping your head up.
  • Yawning repeatedly.
  • Rolling down the windows or turning up the radio to "keep you awake."

Getting sleepy? Here's what to do

Find a safe place to pull over right away, such as a rest area or a store parking lot. Studies show a 15-20 minute nap can help restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and crashes. The National Sleep Foundation suggests drinking a caffeinated beverage, then taking a quick nap, and you'll get the benefits of both. Whatever you do, it's important to listen to your body and respond appropriately.

FIRST: Take steps to prevent drowsy driving

Here are some tips from the experts to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get a good night's sleep before you hit the road. Adequate sleep for most Americans means seven to nine hours.
  • Going on a long drive? Use the buddy system – someone who is rested and awake for the journey and can take a turn behind the wheel or help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
  • If your trip is several hundred miles, take a break every 100 miles or 1½ - 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself, like eating something cold or frozen (avoid sugary snacks!) or going for a 10-minute walk.
  • Avoid alcohol and monitor your medications. Many people unknowingly take prescription and over-the-counter drugs that contribute to drowsiness – being aware of your medications' side effects can help you better manage your driving.
  • Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
  • Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.

For more tips on how to "drive alert, arrive alive," visit www.drowsydriving.org.

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