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Asleep at the Wheel

- June 3, 2019 by Thomas Jolliff, ARM, ALCM (View all posts by Thomas)

The sound of gravel and debris banging against my car was the first indication that I had fallen asleep while driving.

I have no idea how far I traveled, and I don’t recall when I closed my eyes, but I do remember to this day, 32 years later, the whole-body panic I experienced.

The day I dozed off at the wheel began unremarkably. I was seven months into the first year of my first job as a sports writer for the Yuma Daily Sun in Yuma, Arizona. At that time, the YDS was a P.M. paper, so we began the day early in order to meet our 9 a.m. deadline for publication.

I was excited for the day because I was taking my first-ever official road trip to cover a sporting event that night in Phoenix. I was living my dream!

The trip from Yuma to Phoenix is pretty much a straight shot; just hop on Interstate 8 and head east. I had the option to ride the team bus that day, but since I was new to Arizona, I wanted to experience the drive through the desert and cactus.

While I don’t remember feeling tired, it was not long before I was experiencing some of the tell-tale signs of fatigue. You know the ones:

• Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids.

• Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts.

• Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes.

• Trouble keeping your head up.

Not taking seriously what was starting to transpire, I rolled down my window; turned up the volume on the radio, and sang, loud. All of that seemed to be working… until it wasn’t.

The most vivid memory I have is waking up to cactus and tumbleweeds spiraling over the hood and windshield of my car, like bowling pins after a strike.

Panic stricken, and producing a big cloud of dust, I swerved back onto I-8 with a fishtail that any stunt driver would be proud of. I then careened back across three lanes of I-8, and managed to come to a heart-stopping halt, adrenaline supplanting fatigue.

The silver lining of my story is that, despite being a major interstate, I did not hit or hurt anyone. I was amazed, as I looked around, that there were actually no witnesses to my two minutes of terror (except for the cactus – RIP).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Are You at Risk?

Before you drive, check to see if you are:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued (6 hours of sleep or less triples your risk)
  • Suffering from sleep loss (insomnia), poor quality sleep, or a sleep debt
  • Driving long distances without proper rest breaks
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep
  • Taking sedating medications (antidepressants, cold tablets, antihistamines)
  • Working more than 60 hours a week (increases your risk by 40%)
  • Working more than one job and your main job involves shift work
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark or boring road

If you have employees driving for your company, add driver fatigue awareness and risk factor training to your risk management tool chest, you’ll sleep easier. You can find some excellent resources to help train your employees at the National Sleep Foundation’s website DrowsyDriving.org

 

 
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