Hospital News

UPMC Western Maryland advocates for drowsy driving prevention


UPMC Western Maryland is holding a special educational campaign in April 2019 to educate its staff and patients about drowsy driving.

This Thursday, April 4, from 8 a.m. until at least 3 p.m., Trauma Program Manager Elizabeth Wooster will be set up outside the UPMC Western Maryland chapel on the 2nd floor of the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center. Handouts and information will be available, as well as healthy snacks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 328,000 crashes occur on US roads each year due to drowsy driving, and more than 6,400 deaths occur as a result. Some sleep experts feel these numbers underestimate the risk, as concurrent dangerous behaviors such as drunk driving or cell phone use are recorded as the cause of the crash.

Drowsy driving can result from more than not getting enough sleep. Drinking alcohol or taking depressant-type medications can cause tiredness and poor driving skills. Untreated sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea could also prevent getting the recommended amount of sleep, as well as prevent a good night’s sleep.

Who is at greatest risk of being a drowsy driver and in a crash? Younger drivers ages 16-24 are 80 percent more likely to be in a drowsy driving crash than older, more experienced drivers. Males are 60 perecent more likely than females to get in a drowsy driving crash. Anyone driving long, rural, or high-speed roadways, especially at night, is at greater risk. Shift workers, especially those on rotating or nighttime shifts, can have disrupted sleep-wake cycles; so even if they get enough sleep, the quality of their sleep may be poor.

Being tired makes it hard to judge just how tired one really is, so drivers must be alert to symptoms of drowsy driving. These include drifting out of your lane, trouble keeping your eyes open, and forgetting the most recent miles traveled. Drivers experiencing any of these symptoms should find a safe place to pull off the road and take a 20-minute nap. Drinking a caffeinated beverage prior to the nap can help you wake up feeling much more alert. Rolling down the windows and playing loud music are not reliable ways to stay awake. If you are drowsy or short on sleep before your drive home, call for a taxi or ride-share service, or car pool with others.

The only cure for drowsy driving is to get enough sleep; so how can you prevent drowsy driving situations from occurring? Make sleep a priority so that your home and work schedules encourage seven or more hours of uninterrupted sleep. Take and use your vacation days to catch up on sleep, and do not take any sedating medicines or alcohol prior to driving. Get examined by a sleep specialist if you think you might have a sleep disorder that affects the quality or quantity of your sleep.

For more information, contact Elizabeth Wooster at 240-964-3495.