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Drowsy Driving Prevention

Can anything be done to prevent accidents caused by drowsy driving? 

One important step is to seek help for an ongoing sleep problem.  People with sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea may struggle with severe sleepiness while driving.  A sleep center that is accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine can provide the help you need.  Getting treatment for a sleep disorder can improve your sleep and boost your alertness.

Another method of prevention is the use of roadway shoulder “rumble strips.”  They are a common feature on roadsides all across the country.  Rumble strips cause loud vibrations when cars come in contact with them.  The rumbling vibration and loud noise help prevent run-off-road crashes.  After hitting a rumble strip, a driver’s alertness increases dramatically.  But this alerting effect tends to be brief. 

A study published in 2008 examined how rumble strips affect sleepy drivers.  After hitting a rumble strip their alertness increased. But signs of sleepiness returned after five minutes.  So a rumble strip may briefly wake you up. But it won’t keep you from driving drowsy.

Some automakers have developed high-tech systems to help prevent accidents caused by drowsy driving.  The “Attention Assist” system by Mercedes has sensors that measure more than 70 parameters to monitor your alertness.  The system focuses on your steering behavior.  It detects minor steering errors that often occur in the early stages of drowsiness.  Attention Assist then warns you when you are at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.

SAAB’s “Driver Attention Warning System” uses an infrared camera to monitor your eyes.  Software analyzes the image and measures your rate of eye blinking. Warnings occur when it detects drowsy eye-lid closures. 

These systems offer innovative solutions for drowsy driving.  But their effectiveness at preventing accidents caused by drowsiness has yet to be determined.

Some states have attempted to pass legislation to deter irresponsible drowsy driving.  In New Jersey, “Maggie’s Law” was passed in 2003 in honor of 20-year-old Maggie McDonnell.  She was killed when a driver crossed three lanes of traffic and hit her head-on. The driver admitted that he had been awake for 30 hours and had fallen asleep at the wheel.  Now the state law makes killing an individual while sleep-deprived a vehicular homicide. 

It remains unclear whether such legislation will promote driver alertness and reduce drowsy driving.  Ultimately, the best method of prevention is to make it a priority to get enough sleep each night.