MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Your eyelids begin to flutter and become virtually impossible to hold open as you travel back to base after a week in Tokyo. Who knew leave could take so much out of you? With five hours to go, you just closed your eyes for a second, the only problem is you are the one driving.
If you have ever felt fatigued while driving, you are not the only one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed one out of 24 adult drivers admit to falling asleep behind the wheel recently.
In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates police report more than 100,000 crashes resulting in 76,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths from drowsy driving each year.
Despite slight drops in the percentage of Private Motor Vehicle related fatalities, from 75 to 69 percent, over the last three summers -- PMV mishaps continue to be the number one cause of fatalities for Airmen during this time of year.
Tech. Sgt. Kevin Dotson, 35th Fighter Wing ground safety technician, says don't rely on "alertness tricks" to stay awake.
"Behaviors such as smoking, turning up the radio, opening the window and other alertness tricks are not real cures for drowsiness and may give you a false sense of security," Dotson said.
Even turning to caffeine has its negative effects.
"If you're very sleepy, and rely on caffeine to allow you to continue driving, you are likely to experience microsleep, in which you doze off for four or five seconds, which doesn't sound like long, but is still plenty of time to drive off of the road or over the centerline and crash," Dotson added.
Warnings signs of drowsiness while driving:
Slower Reaction Time: Just as when a person is intoxicated with alcohol, a person who is overly tired has slower reaction times. Fatigue leaves the body feeling heavy and relaxed, making it harder to make quick adjustments with the wheel or to step on the brake pedal quickly. A delay in reaction time while driving can be very dangerous. If a drowsy person is slow in braking at a stop light, it could result in a potentially deadly accident.
Impaired Vision: Fatigue has an impact on every part of the human body, including the eyes. When a person gets tired, their eyes become tired. They may experience heavy eyelids, achy eyes or blurred vision as a result of being too tired. Impaired vision, due to fatigue, is very dangerous because once the eyes close, the person has a very good chance of actually falling asleep while driving.
Decreased Alertness: When a person is fatigued or overly tired, the level of alertness drops considerably. When a person is less alert, there's more of a chance of obstacles in the street, such as a tree branch or rock, not being seen. It also diminishes the time it takes to swerve in order to avoid hitting pedestrians or other cars.
How to combat the effects of drowsiness while driving:
Get enough sleep: Be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. If possible, do not drive while your body is naturally drowsy, between the hours of 12 to 6 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.
Avoid medications that may induce drowsiness: Avoid medications that may make you drowsy if you plan to get behind the wheel. Most drowsiness-inducing medications include a warning label indicating that you should not operate vehicles or machinery during use.
Recognize drowsiness signs: Pay attention to indicators of drowsiness such as frequent yawning, heavy eyes, and blurred vision.
Switch drivers: If possible rotate drivers. If you're a passenger and you notice that the driver looks tired speak up and offer to drive, if necessary demand it; your well being is at stake too.
For more information contact the 35th Fighter Wing Safety Office at DSN: 226-2702