Lack of sleep can distract drivers too

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 3, 2017


METRO DETROIT — Reminders about driving behavior may prove tiresome at times, but being tired is one of the leading factors that can contribute to a dangerous crash, according to safety experts and statistics. 

A 2016 AAA survey found that almost 30 percent of drivers had a hard time keeping their eyes open behind the wheel within the past month or so, and around 3 percent admitted that this occurs “fairly often” or frequently. 

The auto agency also said a 2017 survey of Michiganders revealed that the most perilous driving distractions include texting, 96 percent; driving while tired, 83 percent; grooming, 82 percent; talking on a cellphone, 70 percent; and reaching for objects, 70 percent. 

AAA Michigan Public Affairs Specialist Gary Bubar said many people are sleep-deprived, but he warned it can negatively affect drivers’ peripheral vision.

“It changes your ability to first recognize situations that are dangerous and also to react to those situations,” he said. “You become a little more focused on your central vision or that which is just right in front of you. You might not do the simple things you (normally) do, like check your mirrors or check over your shoulder before changing lanes.”

The auto agency recommends not driving if sleep-deprived, particularly before long trips. Drivers should schedule a break once every two hours or 100 miles. Rest stops or parking lots may be used to take a nap if needed, and — supplemented by adequate sleep — caffeine and exercise may reinvigorate a driver. Driving with an alert passenger who can point out when it’s time to rest can also be beneficial. 

Todd Berg, attorney from Michigan Auto Law, said his company’s blog recently recommended that Michigan pass a Drowsy Driving Law similar to a ban on texting and driving. However, he said no one has heard back from any lawmakers about the idea.

Berg said experts have compared drowsy driving, or lacking sleep for 17-19 hours, to having a .05 blood alcohol content.

“You’re five more times likely to be in a crash if you’re driving while you’re drowsy,” he said. “Twenty-one percent of all fatal crashes involve drowsy drivers nationwide.”

Berg said while there is no guarantee that banning drowsy driving would stop it altogether, he believed it would have a deterrent effect and save lives.

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