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Driving Drowsy

The Dangers of Crashing Behind the Wheel
by Courtney Caldwell

The holidays may be behind us, but busy schedules are not. Americans are rolling into more places to go and more things to do than ever before. And they're hitting the highways at the speed of life with ever increasing long trip longevity.

Night Driving

With the fear of flying still deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of many travelers, and a seemingly recharged appreciation for family unity, millions of Americans are opting to travel by car. Translated, this means not only more people and cars on the road, but extended time behind the wheel for each driver. It's no longer an uncommon thing to drive 300 to 500 miles in a day to get to a destination, leaving drivers drowsy, and vulnerable to an accident waiting to happen.

This begs the question then, why is drowsy driving so dangerous? First and foremost, sleepiness affects our reaction time, an important element needed to keep us sharp while driving amongst the field of contenders on road. It's important to remain alert to react to whatever comes your way. Sleepiness also affects our attention span and the ability to process information, also both critical aspects to safe driving. When your brain slows down, so does everything else — including your ability to make quick decisions in emergency situations. Many of the same limitations that occur from alcohol also occur when driving drowsy.

In fact, British researchers have found that extreme sleep deprivation is equivalent to a .10 alcohol level — a level that is above the illegal limit in most U.S. states. And we all know that driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and if caught, it means fines, loss of license, perhaps even jail time. So why then is there no penalty for driving drowsy?

With some 100,000 reported sleep-related accidents each year, resulting in more than 71,000 injuries, 1,500 deaths, and $12 billion in damages to our national economy, there needs to be more than a slap on the wrist and a frivolous fine when a driver falls asleep at the wheel and hits a family of five head on, killing all of them.

Last April on the way to spring break, a group of three young college girls were on their way to Florida by car. They were trying to make it from Michigan in one trip. As her two passengers lay asleep at 4am, the driver forged ahead in a drowsy condition. She fell asleep at the wheel, crossed over the freeway, flew into a ditch, which violently rolled the car multiple times. The two 19-year-old sleeping passengers were thrown from the vehicle and killed instantly. The driver lived. The courts fined her $800 and she went back to life as usual.

Two lives were lost, two families destroyed; yet she expressed bewilderment when the dead girls' college mates, boyfriends and family members stopped talking to her. In her mind, it wasn't her fault that she fell asleep at the wheel even though she consciously made the choice to drive feeling drowsy instead of pulling over or waking up one of the other girls to take a turn. She took no responsibility for her actions.

Years ago, before MADD became involved, drunk driving was handled the same way by our court systems. Drunk drivers were fined and scolded, then sent on their way, for killing people because they claimed it wasn't their fault because they were drunk. However, they made the choice to drink, and they made the choice to get behind the wheel drunk. Then they made the choice not to accept responsibility for their actions. We all now better now. We must accept responsibility and be held accountable for our choices and results of our actions.

Currently, there are no laws to prevent people from driving drowsy. What's wrong with this picture and what can be done to change what's finally being considered a very serious national problem?

The National Sleep Foundation is one of the agencies working on statistics and research to gather clear and irrefutable data to present to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, who is already well aware that driving drowsy is a serious health risk and life-endangering plague on American highways. Eventually, there will be enough evidence, enough death and destruction, to pass laws for driving drowsy. But as bureaucratic debates continue in the meantime, which could take years before laws are created, many more people will die or become paralyzed or have their lives destroyed from sleep-related accidents.

So why, you ask, isn't anybody doing anything about this problem in the meantime, a question we wanted an answer to as well. Our search took us to corporate America where we discovered Baymont Inns & Suites, the first national corporation to lead the pack by creating a program that not only addresses the issue of driving drowsy but offers American motorists a solution to help them arrive at their destination safely. It's called the Drive Revived™ program.

Drive Revived™ is a new educational program from Baymont Inns & Suites designed to keep you safe on the road. Knowing drowsy driving warning signs, risk factors and prevention methods is key to arriving safely at your destination. One of the most important factors is to know when you need to take a break. Baymont's list of warning signs will help you determine the signs for which to stay alert (pun intended) in order to take the appropriate steps to revive your brain and body.

Baymont Inn

The beauty of the Drive Revived™ program is that it offers 180 Baymont locations across America at which travelers can stop to enjoy a safe, clean and comfortable environment. This alone resolves the issue for many drivers who have a fear of pulling over to rest stops, truck stops or gas stations along dark deserted freeways at night, especially for women (with or without children) who are traveling alone. What's more, Baymont also provides free coffee or bottled water while weary travelers rest.

The coolest thing about Drive Revived™ is that there's no obligation to stay over. Drivers have access to the cozy comfort of Baymont's warm and friendly lobby, 24/7, where they can stretch their legs, get their free coffee or bottled water, take a rest, hit the john, change the baby, even get free literature on how to prevent driving drowsy all before getting back behind the wheel completely revived. However, should anyone decide that a good night's sleep is the best solution after all; Baymont even offers a reduced Drive Revived™ rate that is very reasonable.

We have learned by bringing this issue to the forefront of public attention that just about everyone has a story to tell about driving drowsy. It's happened to all of us at one time or another, and is shocking to learn just how many people have actually driven off the road or into oncoming traffic or had an accident as a result. They're lucky to have lived to talk about it. However, the biggest joy in sharing Baymont's new Drive Revived™ fight against driving drowsy is to see how relieved and happy people are to hear about it. It's like "Wow, someone is finally doing something about it." Yes they are, and they are Baymont Inns & Suites. Let's just hope others follow their lead.

The truth is that we're all at risk although some are more at risk than others. As human beings we all need sleep and as diurnal creatures most of us need sleep at night. In fact, we have what is known as circadian rhythms, which help define when we need to sleep and eat. When those rhythms are disrupted it affects how we perform, whether it's driving, working or just functioning in normal everyday routines.

Point being, we can't always prevent these disruptions but we can plan ahead. Know what the risk factors are. Know the warning signs and what prevention methods you can take to avoid what could be a major disruption to your life and limb.

Here are a few tips to start. Take these steps to help prevent falling asleep at the wheel and plan on living a long life. Even a long life is a short trip so enjoy it!

1. If you know you'll be taking a long trip, be sure to get a good night's sleep the night before leaving.

2. If at all possible, avoid driving between midnight and 6am.

3. Drive with another person who can help keep you alert by talking to you, or can drive while you rest.

4. Take breaks every 100 miles or so. Physical fatigue from sitting too long can contribute to becoming drowsier.

5. Drink caffeine or water to help you stay awake.

6. Avoid alcohol including the night before you leave.

7. Don't assume opening a window or playing the radio will keep you alert. This is a myth. In fact, the melodic rhythm of the wind or music can hurt more than help.

For additional risk factors, warning signs and prevention methods, we suggest you link up to www.driverevived.com, print out all the information and take it with you on your trip. Educate yourself and family about the dangers of driving drowsy and what can be done to prevent it. What's more, get familiar with the warning signs so you can recognize it in other drivers on the road. The guy swerving in front of you may not be drunk but instead falling asleep at the wheel. Be knowledgeable about these tips to share with others at parties, especially gatherings where there's alcohol consumption. If someone drinks too much, you'd offer him or her a ride home, right? Well, if someone seems overly tired, offer the same gift of life.

When planning your road trip for either business or holiday travel, check out the Baymont Inns & Suites for locations along your route. This way, you can plan your breaks ahead of time, and ensure a safe arrival at your final destination.

For more information on Baymont's Drive Revived program, click here.

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