Drinking and driving can be a lethal combination.  

So can driving while drowsy. Drowsiness is one of the most dangerous distractions drivers can experience.

A study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 80 percent of crashes to be caused by distracted or drowsy driving.  

The study also found that tired drivers are four to six times more likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash than are drivers who are not tired.

Time of day matters too.  The afternoon hours between 1-5 p.m. and the early morning between midnight-6 a.m. seem to be the most dangerous time for drowsy driving.

While drowsing and driving don’t mix for drivers of any age, young men seem to be the most likely to be afflicted. However, the number of young women involved in crashes and near-crashes is steadily increasing.

Males ages 16 to 24 have a higher crash rate from all types of crashes.  This age group is also more likely to be sleep-deprived due to combining busy schedules as students and working along with active social lives. It is also true that teenagers and young adults actually need more sleep than older people.

But for drivers of any age, research shows that getting less than six hours of sleep can be risky.

The National Safety Council listed symptoms of drowsy driving:

• eyes closing or going out of focus;

• excessive yawning;

• irritability or impatience;

• wandering thoughts;

• inability to remember driving the last few miles;  and

• drifting between lanes or onto the road’s shoulder.

If any of these symptoms show up, the safety council advises to get off the road.  If you are unable to go home to sleep, find a safe, well-lit area to take a nap.

To prevent drowsy driving in the first place, the safety council said:

• Begin the trip early in the day and don’t drive between midnight and 6 a.m. if possible.

• Stop every 100 miles or so-about every two hours-to get out of the car and walk around.

• Share driving responsibilities, especially on long trips.

It is dangerous to mix even small amounts of alcohol with driving as low alcohol doses magnify the driver’s drowsiness.

Drowsiness is a serious distraction for drivers, but not the only one for a societal trend of multi-tasking while driving and a general lack of attention to the road.  Using cell phones for talking or texting, outside distractions, eating, sickness, and fiddling with modern vehicle gadgets are other dangerous driving distractions.  

The average driver makes 400 observations and 40 decisions every 2 miles they drive. One of the best preventive measures you can take is to always wear your safety belt. For your safety and the safety of others who share the road, always make driving your number one priority when you are behind the wheel. Stay awake, stay alert, stay alive!

Rita Hodges is the Ellis  County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences. Contact Rita at 972-825-5175 or rmhodges@ag.tamu.edu.