Asleep at the Wheel

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Mar 5 2015 / By DriveitHOME

Asleep at the Wheel

A couple weeks ago, we talked about driving under the influence of emotions, a seldom-discussed form of impaired driving. This week, we’ll talk a little bit about another form of impairment that tends to fly under the radar: driving while drowsy.

If you follow DIH on Facebook and Twitter, you know we’ve posted news stories and studies about driving while drowsy, but it’s a message worth repeating. It seems pretty obvious if you think about it, but teens and parents alike can forget just how dangerous this impairment can be.

Sleep. It’s something we all need and unfortunately, something many of us take for granted. Everyone has a busy schedule these days, including teens, so going to bed late or waking up extra early may be the norm in your home. But what does that do to us physically?

Restful sleep helps our bodies regain the stamina we need to face the day and all the tasks we perform, including driving. So how much of it do we need? Everyone is different and there is no magic number, but seven to eight hours is generally what’s recommended for adults. Teens actually require a little more –about nine to 10 hours a day.

Does it make a difference? Studies show teens who sleep for less than eight hours a day are one third more likely to crash than those who get eight or more hours of sleep. That may be a surprising statistic, but here’s another that might shock you: going without sleep for more than 18 hours can cause the same impairment as having a BAC of .08%, which is legally intoxicated!

Troubling as these numbers are, the good news is that it’s relatively easy to prevent. It’s key to treat drowsiness just like any other impairment. If your teen feels very tired, he or she shouldn’t drive.

Use “what if” situations as part of your coaching. If your teen is exhausted from work or had a long day of practice and feels wiped out, offer to pick him or her up. If your teen already is on the road and starting to nod off, ask him or her to stop somewhere safe and rest until it’s safe to resume driving, or call for a ride if necessary.

The most important thing is to talk with your teen about avoiding drowsy driving altogether. There may be little choice about when the school day starts, but if your teen has an early start, talk about the importance of getting to bed early so he or she is ready for the morning drive. If your teen has been up all night cramming for the big test, it probably isn’t safe to drive. Like any other impairment, having an open discussion and setting some common sense ground rules will go a long way in helping your new teen driver form good habits.

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