By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
There is a growing concern over the relationship between drowsy driving and automobile crashes. There are a number of factors that can contribute to a person being drowsy, and research indicates an increasing number of people are drowsy during the day. Combine that with driving and the dangerous situation can be disastrous.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, in an expert panel report, provide insight about those most at risk and contributing causes and additional risk factors.
Virtually all studies found that young people - males in particular - between the ages of 16 and 29 were most likely to be involved in fall-asleep crashes. In one study, boys with the greatest extracurricular time commitments were most likely to report falling asleep at the wheel. The subgroup at greatest risk comprised the brightest, most energetic, hardest working teens.
Unfortunately, this is also an age group that is less likely to fasten safety belts. While buckling up does not help with drowsiness, it can protect a driver or passenger in case of a crash, regardless of the cause.
Most teens, because of growing and changing bodies, have an increased need for sleep. They experience changes in sleep patterns. And they often have many demands like schoolwork, jobs, extracurricular activities and late-night socializing.
The other two groups that are prominently represented in sleep-related crashes are shift workers and people with untreated sleep apnea and narcolepsy. Sometimes people are aware of their sleepiness and will avoid risks like driving. However, for many, it may require falling asleep at the wheel before they seek help. A crash is not necessarily involved. For example, drivers may fall asleep at a traffic light.
Characteristics of crashes related to falling asleep include:
The problem occurs during late-night and early-morning hours, or in midafternoon.
The crash is likely to be serious.
A single vehicle leaves the roadway.
The crash occurs on a high-speed road.
The driver does not attempt to avoid a crash.
The driver is alone in the vehicle.
Some factors that are recognized as increasing the risk of driving drowsy and related crashes include:
Driving patterns, including driving between midnight and 6 a.m.; driving a substantial number of miles each year or a substantial number of hours each day; driving in the midafternoon hours, especially for older people; and driving for longer times without taking a break.
Use of sedating medications, especially prescribed anxiolytic hypnotics, tricyclic antidepressants, and some antihistamines.
Untreated or unrecognized sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea syndrome and narcolepsy.
Consumption of alcohol, which interacts with and adds to drowsiness.
The panel recommends three areas of focus for an educational campaign:
Educate young males, ages 16 to 24, about drowsy driving and how to reduce lifestyle-related risks.
Promote shoulder rumble strips as an effective countermeasure for drowsy driving and raise public awareness about drowsy-driving risks and how to reduce them.
Educate shift workers about the risks of drowsy driving and how to reduce them.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death of Montana's children and youths. Protecting them from this is a responsibility for all. Adults can help set the stage by being good role models of safe behavior.
During May, law enforcement throughout Montana will be checking passengers for safety belts. In Havre, you will be hearing and seeing a lot of information and activity surrounding the use of safety belts and driving safely.
Surveyors have observed that nearly half of drivers and passengers in Havre wear safety belts while on their way to work or transporting children to school. That number is an improvement over past surveys, but Montanans do much better on the highway. Safety belt use is just as important while driving on streets in town as it is on the highway.
What does that "click," which only takes a few seconds, do for us? By fastening that belt, a person is using the most effective safety device available in a vehicle.
Adults need to remember that anyone unbuckled in the vehicle is a danger to others in the vehicle, even when the others are buckled up.
Let's all buckle up, every time, and insist that everyone in the vehicle also buckle up. Remember that driving drowsy puts the driver, passengers and others at risk.
The Child Safety Seat Fitting Station conducts checkups by appointment weekdays. The Fitting Station number is 265-6743 or 265-2620, option No. 4.
The Hill County Safe Kids/Safe Communities Coalition, a program of the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, will be holding a child safety seat checkup on June 11 at Liberty Auto. For help in obtaining a car seat or booster seat, contact LuAnn at 265-6206.