SALT LAKE CITY – Drowsy driving awareness week is coming to an end, and experts are encouraging Utahns to be more aware of the danger drowsy driving poses.
"We need to change our culture in Utah, because impaired driving is a shameful thing, but drowsy driving is more acceptable, but both are dangerous and both kill,” said Allyse Christensen, a spokesperson for Zero Fatalities.
So far in Utah this year there have been 14 traffic-related deaths attributed to drowsy drivers. Nationally, 1,550 people are killed every year on average as a result of drowsy driving.
It’s something Zero Fatalities says is 100 percent preventable, and something that can impact anyone who gets behind the wheel.
“The thing that's different than the other behaviors killing people on the road is that not everyone texts and drives, not everyone is impaired by alcohol when they're driving, but everyone is affected by drowsy driving, because it's something we all need: We all need sleep,” Christensen said.
There are several warning signs to look out for:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids.
- Daydreaming or wandering thoughts.
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven.
Christensen said a drowsy driving crash doesn’t always involve someone falling asleep.
"We're not talking about passing out behind the wheel, you know, we're not talking about snoring, we're talking about seconds with your eyes closed, and it’s those seconds that get you off the road, that flip your vehicle,” she said.
Statistics indicate the majority of drowsy driving accidents that take place in Utah occur in rural areas, perhaps because of the long stretches of uninterrupted road.
Sgt. Todd Royce of the Utah Highway Patrol offered advice for steering clear of drowsy driving.
“Make sure that if you're driving a long distance you get plenty of rest the night before, that's the big one,” he said.
Experts note that ideally adults should get eight hours of sleep each night, and teenagers need more than that. Drivers are encouraged to take a break every two hours or 100 miles, and they should get out the vehicle and walk around and drink some water.
If you feel yourself becoming drowsy while driving, pull over to a safe area and take a brief nap.