COLORADO– While the Sunday start of daylight saving time means that Spring is in sight, it also carries with it one fewer hour of shut-eye and a shift in our sleeping patterns that can spell disaster on our roadways.
All told, sleep-deprived drivers cause more than 6,400 deaths and 50,000 debilitating injuries on American roadways each year, per the National Sleep Foundation. And, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, driver fatigue was a contributing factor in 1,058 crashes in the state in 2016.
"It takes two weeks for most of us adjust to the shorter nights and our new sleep schedules," said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. "Between now and then, we're all especially exposed to the risks of drowsy driving. Drivers should begin adjusting their sleep habits now to make sure they get at least seven hours of sleep before getting behind the wheel."
Symptoms of drowsy driving can include trouble keeping eyes open, drifting from lanes, or not remembering the last few miles driven. Alarmingly, however, more than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel.
"Your body can't always warn you that you're too tired to drive," McKinley said. "The only safe bet is making sure you get enough sleep."
Research from the 2016 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report on sleep deprivation and motor vehicle crashes shows that missing just one to two hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly doubles crash risk. All told, drowsy driving contributes to more than one in five fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year.
Additional data from the 2017 AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index show that more than 95 percent of motorists consider drowsy driving "completely unacceptable" -- and yet, three in ten Americans admitted to driving when they were too tired to keep their eyes open at least once in the past month.
"America's problems with drowsy driving stem from this 'Do as I say, not as I do' mindset," McKinley said. "The start of daylight saving time gives us a good reason to review our driving habits, especially because we'll all be losing at least one hour of sleep. Get enough rest, and be mindful of everyone on the roads – other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians."
AAA Colorado offers the following tips to help drivers avoid potential crashes:
- Rest up. Get plenty of rest before getting behind the wheel. Your crash risk goes way up whenever you get fewer than seven hours of sleep. If you do begin to feel drowsy while driving, pull over immediately and rest or call a family member or friend for assistance.
- Always watch for pedestrians when backing up in parking lots or driveways – especially in the darker morning hours. Turn on your headlights to make yourself more visible.
- Avoid eating heavy foods or sleep-inducing medications before driving.
- Watch out for children and others who are more likely to be outdoors now that it is lighter during the evening hours.
- Care for your car. Keep headlights, tail lights, signal lights, and windows (inside and out) clean.
- Ensure headlights are properly aimed. Misaimed headlights blind other drivers and reduce visibility.
- Keep headlights on low beams when following another vehicle, so other drivers are not blinded. Turn off your high beams when there's traffic in the oncoming lane.
- Be mindful of pedestrians and crosswalks. Yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks and do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks.
"Sleepiness and driving don't mix. As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules and adjust to daylight saving time, missing a few hours of sleep as we get used to our new schedules almost seems harmless," McKinley said. "But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk."
About AAA Colorado
More than 685,000 members strong, AAA Colorado is the state's most-trusted advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 59 million members with travel, insurance, financial, and automotive-related services - as well as member-exclusive savings. For more information, visit AAA.com.