This is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, and a just-completed study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety discovered that for all of the publicity being given to issues of distracted driving, the drowsy driver may actually represent just as significant an overall threat. Of the respondents polled by the AAA, more than quarter of admitted they drove their vehicles at some time during the previous month despite being so tired that they had difficulty keeping their eyes open. These findings were part of the AAA Foundation's third annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, a nationally-representative survey of 2,000 individuals conducted by Abt SRBI Inc from May 11 to June 7 of this year.

"Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol, contributing to the possibility of a crash," said AAA Chicago Regional President Brad Roeber. "We need to change the culture so that not only will drivers recognize the dangers of driving while drowsy but will stop doing it."

In releasing the findings, the AAA also cited a new analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash data that estimates about one in six deadly crashes, one in eight crashes resulting in occupant hospitalization and one in fourteen crashes in which a vehicle was towed involved a driver who was drowsy at the time of the incident. According to the AAA, "these percentages are substantially higher than most previous estimates, suggesting that the contribution of drowsy driving to motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths has not been fully appreciated." Roeber went on to note, "Unfortunately, too many drivers have adopted the 'I'm tired, but I can make it' mentality, often to their own peril or to the peril of others."

According to the AAA, the prime warning signs of drowsy driving include difficulty keeping your eyes open and focused, the inability to keep your head up, daydreaming and drifting in lane or tailgating. To prevent this type of potentially lethal behind-the-wheel behavior, AAA recommends getting at least six hours of sleep the night before starting out on any extended trip, scheduling a break every two hours or 100 miles, limiting travel to time when you are normally awake and to simply stop driving when you do get sleepy, even if it means staying overnight instead of trying to drive through to your final destination. 

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