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Drowsy Driving Should Concern College Students

By Kelson Howerton
On February 1, 2018

Drowsy Driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and college age adults are the most common victims.
Photo Courtesy of Optalert

The impairment of drowsy driving is equivalent to being legally drunk. While the nation is no doubt aware of the dangers of drunk driving by now, no one thinks about the equally dangerous driving impairment drowsy driving. This risk should be of particular interest to college students during their early morning commutes or drive home from night classes. 

Drowsy driving, or driving while sleep-deprived, is the cause of more than 300,000 car accidents a year in the U.S., with 6,400 accidents causing death, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 

These numbers are so high because the dangers of driving while drowsy are not, culturally, a serious consideration. However, the effects of drowsiness can crash down on someone in an instant and without warning, according to professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical University Dr. Charles Czeisler. This crash could potentially turn a normal drive into a life-threatening accident. 

 “One thing that people don’t realize [is that] they may feel great when they get behind the wheel of a car, but within five or 10 minutes, doing a routine task like driving can unmask the impact of sleep deprivation,” Dr. Czeisler told HuffPost. “The drowsy brain can lock into this state of automatic behavior where part of the brain is asleep and [another] part of the brain is awake as they’re sailing down the highway. And when that happens, they may run into hazards rather than steer away from them.”

This drowsy state also triples your reaction time, causes the brain to miss 10 times as many signals in the visual field, and makes you more susceptible to distraction as your brain fights to keep you awake, Czeisler says.

While drowsy driving is a nationwide problem, Dr. Czeisler states that this issue is a greater threat to college students, as the effects of sleep deprivation have stronger effects upon the minds of younger drivers. Czeisler points out that that college-age students are the most frequent victims of these accidents, with drivers under the age of 25 accounting for more than half of drowsy driving crashes in America. 

Although college age adults are most at-risk, the dangers of drowsy driving do not seem to be a big deal to most college students, according to a study by professors of the University of Maryland, College Park. 

Through four focus groups with 26 undergraduate students, study leader Dr. Kenneth Beck and his colleagues analyzed the students’ driving behaviors and attitudes towards dangerous driving habits, focusing on drowsy driving and solutions to reducing these traffic hazards. The study concluded that, while most had experienced drowsy driving related incidents ranging from actual crashes to near misses, these students believed drowsy driving was less risky than driving while drunk or under the influence, and held no legal ramifications. These students simply saw it as an unavoidable aspect of their lives and took necessary precautions while driving, from opening the window to loudly playing music. 

However, even these countermeasures would not be enough to combat drowsiness on extended drives. If you feel as if you are too tired to drive, consider pulling over to rest until your mind is more alert. Just as you would handle drunk driving, also consider asking a friend or family member to drive you next time you pull an all-nighter, or at the very least, take a nap before taking the wheel.  



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