Drowsy driving a growing problem for young people

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- More teenage drivers admit to driving drowsy, and police say that is just as dangerous as distracted or drunk driving.

Younger drivers are more likely to drive while drowsy according to new data presented by AAA. Based on a recent survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one in seven licensed drivers ages 16-24 admitted to having nodded off at least once while driving in the past year as compared to one in ten of all licensed drivers who confessed to falling asleep during the same period.

"It is becoming a big problem," said Lt. Don Boshears with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. "It may not be right up there as high as distracted driving, or impaired driving, but in a way driving drowsy is distracted driving."

Boshears says people not paying attention or staying in their lanes because they dose off is has gotten worse over the past few years.

According to THP records, in 2009 there were 92 fatal accidents and 1,078 injury accidents across the state. In 2010, 41 fatalities and 1,078 injury accidents, and in 2011 51 fatalities with 1091 injury accidents.

“Unfortunately, most drivers underestimate the risks associated with drowsy driving and overestimate their ability to deal with it—that’s a dangerous combination,” said AAA Foundation President & CEO Peter Kissinger.

Driving while sleepy or fatigued can significantly impact driving ability, causing slower reaction time, vision impairment and lapses in judgment. While there is no guarantee that drivers will recognize when they are becoming tired behind the wheel, signs of drowsy driving can include:

Trouble remembering the last miles driven or missing exits and traffic signs
Difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused
Yawning frequently or rubbing your eyes repeatedly
Drifting from your lane or off the road
Daydreaming or having wandering, disconnected thoughts

Dr. Kevin Martinolich, a Sleep Specialist with UT Medical Center, says he's seeing a growing problem that will hit young people in a big way in several years.

"It's actually an epidemic problem right now I think. Most of us don't get enough sleep," said Martinolich. "People think oh I nod off for a moment, a half a second, how could that cause a problem. It takes less than a second to lose control and next thing you know your hitting somebody else."

Martinolich suggests people get 7-9 hours of sleep each night so they can properly function. He says sleep will help you feel better, fight disease and help with stress.

Martinolich estimates people get 20 percent less sleep than our ancesters did 100 years ago.

AAA urges all motorists to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over if experiencing any of the drowsy driving symptoms. To remain alert and be safer behind the wheel, AAA suggests:

Get plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) the night before a long trip
Avoid travelling at times you would normally be sleeping
Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
Avoid heavy foods
Travel with a companion and take turns driving
Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

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