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If You’re Yawning Behind the Wheel, You’re out to Kill

bigstock-216694456-1024x647Chevrolet has been sending a safety engineer across the county to raise awareness of the risks of drowsy driving. Fatigued driving accidents are commonplace and particularly dangerous because a sleepy driver is slower to react and brake or swerve to avoid a collision. A drowsy driver may actually nod off behind the wheel and crash at full speed.

Chevrolet is asking local and national journalists to try the car manufacturer’s drowsy driving simulator. It consists of a 23-pound suit to cause the sluggishness your body feels when fatigued, and goggles that replicate frequent blinking associated with drowsy driving.

“As you get tired, the way we can tell is by your percent of eye closure, so every 10 seconds, the goggles close for one second; this represents being a medium level of drowsy, and mimics your eye pattern when you’re tired,” Maureen Short, a human factors expert and senior safety engineer for Chevrolet, told an NBC News reporter. “If you’re truly drowsy and you nod off, it can be 2 to 4 seconds of eye closure at a time.”

Once suited up, participants in the drowsy driving simulation were asked to drive at a test track. “My instructions to keep the car at a constant 20 mph suddenly became a whole lot harder, and I found myself struggling not to ride the brake,” New York Daily News reporter Dan Gessner wrote. “Sharp corners became dreadful, and the weights on my arms, legs and chest weren’t helping either.”

The test drives were at 15-20 mph. Short reminded the NBC reporter, who complained of slowed reaction time due to the fatigue-mimicking weights, that at 60 to 70 miles per hour on a highway the fatigued driver covers a lot more area while reacting more slowly, which greatly increases the risk.

The Risks and Signs of Fatigued Driving

Driver fatigue may contribute to 9.5 percent of all motor vehicle crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes serious enough to be reported to police — far more than federal estimates indicate, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says.

In the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll, 60 percent of adults admitted to driving while drowsy and 37 percent admitted to having nodded off or fallen asleep while behind the wheel. A more recent Sleep Health Index published by the foundation found that 3 percent of Americans — equal to 7 million people — admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel within two weeks of answering the survey.

Fatigued Drivers Put Everyone on the Road at Risk.

Part of the problem is that drowsiness occurs over time. Drivers can miss its signs until they are fatigued, which damages their decision-making — including deciding whether to stop driving.

Signs that you are fatigued and should not be driving include:

  • Repeated yawning. Yawning indicates a brain not fully awake trying to stimulate itself by increasing oxygen intake. Repeated yawning means your body needs sleep.
  • Repeated blinking. As you tire, your eyes dry out, and blinking is a means of wetting them. The inability to keep your eyes open is also a matter of the muscles in the eyelids being overly stressed. As you instinctively reach to rub your eyes, it is like rubbing a sore calf or arm muscle to keep going.
  • Memory lapse. If you suddenly feel like the last couple of exits or last few miles went by without notice, you are too tired to be driving. Lack of sleep impairs the ability to focus and learn, which are required before short-term memory can occur.
  • Lane deviation. Going back and forth within your lane, drifting from lane to lane and/or hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road indicate you are not controlling the vehicle. Your fatigue is causing you to be unable to focus and/or handle the physical task of steering correctly.
  • Unsafe driving. Making mistakes or driving badly, like creeping up on a vehicle and tailgating, braking suddenly and too hard or for no reason, or missing a speed limit change, stop sign or other signage may indicate that you are dozing off.

Your vehicle may have safety features that indicate problems related to drowsiness, such as lane departure warning, lane-keep assist or collision warning and automatic braking. If such a warning was to alert you once, it should serve as a wake-up call. But if you are warned more than once, you are likely incapable of fully waking up, and should not be driving.

Technology Trying to Tackle Fatigued Driving

Eventually, vehicles may be equipped with technology that specifically addresses drowsy driving.

Several manufacturers, including Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, already offer warning systems that monitor a vehicle’s movements, such as steering wheel angle, lane deviation, time driven and road conditions, according to The New York Times. Other manufacturers and automobile suppliers are working on technological solutions that focus on driver behavior to warn of fatigue before it creates a driving hazard.

The Japanese company Sumitomo Riko Co. Ltd. has developed a new seat cushion that uses conductive rubber electrodes to detect when a driver becomes fatigued and is at risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

Meanwhile, Panasonic has developed an in-car system that detects driver drowsiness with a camera and sensors that measure the driver’s blinking, facial expressions, heat loss from the body, and the car’s internal lighting. It adjusts the car’s internal environment – temperature, air flow, brightness — to help rouse the driver.

The Solution to Drowsy Driving? Stop!

Regardless of driver assistance technology, unless and until cars are equipped with drowsy driver lock-out systems, it remains drivers’ responsibility to pull over and stop when they are fatigued. It is a mistake to rely on tricks such as caffeinated drinks (coffee, power drinks, etc.), opening a window for a blast of cold air, or turning up the music.

AAA recommends that drivers:

  • Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake.
  • Avoid heavy foods before driving.
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.

For longer trips:

  • Take a break every two hours or every 100 miles.
  • Travel with someone who is rested, and take turns driving.
  • Do not underestimate the power of a quick nap. Pulling into a rest stop for 20-30 minutes of sleep — but no more — can help keep you alert on the road.

Contact Us About a Fatigued Driving Accident in Dallas

If you have been in a car wreck in Dallas Forth Worth Metroplex at the fault of someone else, fatigued driving may have been a contributing factor. The Reyes Browne Reilley Law Firm knows how to look for evidence of fatigued driving and prove that a drowsy driver caused your car accident. Contact us today – we can provide a free legal consultation and start developing your case immediately.

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