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Wake Up to Drowsy Driving

Wake Up to Drowsy Driving

Paula Patch

Byline: Paula Patch

Quick: What causes 1,550 traffic fatalities, 71,000 crash-related injuries and $12.5 billion in damages each year?* Drunk driving? Not exactly. Try drowsy driving. Never heard of it? Well, chances are you have experienced it.

According to a 1999 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 62 percent of all adults surveyed had driven a car while feeling drowsy. More than a quarter of those polled admitted they had actually dozed off while driving, and 23 percent said they knew someone who had experienced a “fall-asleep” automobile accident.

So, wake up: This is a big deal. Among the risk factors for drowsy driving is an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea. According to the National Sleep Foundation, OSA is associated with a three-to-seven times increase in automobile crash risk. And, consider that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found 28 percent of commercial truck drivers they surveyed had OSA ranging from mild to severe. That means a quarter of the big rigs passing by you on the highway are driven by potentially drowsy drivers.

To reduce the number of people affected by drowsy driving, NSF launched the “Drive Alert … Arrive Alive” campaign, which includes such resources as a national clearinghouse for use by researchers and the general public, a national speakers bureau, educational materials, advocacy efforts and state and national programs. One of these national programs is the National Summit to Prevent Drowsy Driving, which was held in Washington, D.C., last November. Longmont-Colo.-based Sunrise Medical’s DeVilbiss division was a co-sponsor of the summit.

“Many [people] gathered from across a host of different areas to begin to prioritize different efforts that could begin to make America more aware of the risks of and the actions that can be taken to prevent drowsy driving,” says Carey Winkel, senior vice president of global planning, marketing and communications for Sunrise. “Drowsy driving has statistically been proven to be as dangerous as drunk driving. As we step back and ask ourselves if we have or if we know someone who has dozed while driving – and then can imagine the result of this action – it becomes more important to listen to our bodies telling us that ‘sleep’ and ‘sleepiness’ is something we should pay attention to.

“If we can support getting this message out – understanding undiagnosed sleep disorders like OSA, getting treatment and then being compliant – we can save lives. It is that simple,” Winkel states.

With manufacturers on the sleep bandwagon (ResMed and Respironics sponsor other NSF programs), providers can jump on, too. When you provide a patient with a CPAP or other sleep-disorder device, send educational materials home with the patient as well. The NSF Web site, www.sleepfoundation.org, is a good place to start.

In addition, get to know your local sleep center. The NSF has Community Sleep Awareness Partners across the United States. According to the NSF, CSAPs are “health care providers committed to promoting public understanding of sleep and sleep disorders, and supporting sleep-related education, research and advocacy to improve public health and safety in their communities.” A list of CSAPS is available at www.sleepfoundation.org/site99.html.

*Statistics based on 1996 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates.

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