I had a conversation with a young adult driver a few months ago that rattled me to my core. We were all in New York for an event that ended incredibly late. My family had decided to stay in the city and spring for a hotel and head back the next day. We opted to take the train and just by pass the driving headache. I assumed our friends were staying in the city, too, and driving back the next day. While it isn’t a long drive between MA and NYC, it’s still a 4 hour drive and much easier to do in the daylight while awake. To my surprise, I learned they were leaving that evening after the event, around 1am, actually. The driver is only 21 and would have her 14 year old sister with her. As a mom of teenagers, the situation made me beyond antsy. While not my kids, I attempted to make a case for crashing with us in the hotel until even 6am. I lost.
“We’ll be fine”, she told me. “I’m young…I don’t need much sleep. I’ll just blast the music and load up on caffeine.”
Thankfully, she made it home safe and sound but that’s not always the case with drowsy drivers and I would not want my daughters to be in that situation if it could be at all avoided. Aside from the inexperience of youth, to need the distraction of music plus a stimulant of caffeine to stay awak are not good combinations – for any age. These are some of the reasons accidents are so common at night – and among tired drivers, especially tired, young drivers.
The scary reality is that drowsy driving is not only dangerous but many times fatal. This is true for drivers of all ages.
I first learned about the dangers of sleepy drivers in high school when a much loved gym teacher died in a car accident because his friend fell asleep at the wheel while driving overnight in a cross country trip. And, just this past month a young college grad from my home town was killed in a car accident thought to be due to drowsy driving. So, you can imagine the sick feeling I felt when our families friends drove home that night from NYC. This one hits close to home.
The statistics on drowsy driving are sobering. According to a 2010 AAA Foundation Study, 41% of drivers admit that they’ve “falling asleep or nodded off” while driving. This includes more than 25% admitting that within the month the study was conducted they were “so sleepy [they] had a hard time keeping [their] yes open”.
In examination of crash data between 1999 and 2008, crashes attributed to drowsy drivers account for
- 7% of towed vehicles
- 13.1% of crashes resulting in a person taken to a hospital and admitted
- 16.5% of fatal crashes
So, let’s wise up and show better judgement than we’ve been showing. As adults, we have to do a better job not driving when we’re drowsy and advising our teens and young adults to do the same. We have to stop obsessing about “being there on time” and start focussing on safety. Will the world really stop spinning if we pull over to rest or stay overnight somewhere so we can drive safely in daylight while rested? Will our bank really break if we spring for a hotel for our young adult so she can rest before driving home the next morning? If we start thinking more like this, all of us will be more rested, and our roads a lot less dangerous.
Just remember, driving while drowsy is essentially a big, moving game of Russian Roulette. You may win a round now and again but eventually your luck will run out.