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An Echo Press Editorial: Are you driving drowsy? Wake up!

Most of us have done it.

It's just about as bad as drunk driving.

It's drowsy driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes for Health to expand the understanding of drowsy driving to reduce related deaths and injuries and help people avoid being a drowsy-driving statistic.

It's a problem that needs to be addressed. In 2016, there were 803 fatalities — 2.3 percent of all fatalities — recorded in NHTSA's database that were drowsy-driving related. Those reported fatalities (and drowsy-driving crashes overall) have remained largely consistent across the past decade, according to traffic experts.

Between 2011 and 2016 there was a total of 4,924 crashes related to drowsy driving.

A recent newsletter from The Hartford insurance company notes that causes of fatigue result from lack of sleep, interrupted sleep, sleep disorders, sedating medications, work hours and consumption of alcohol. If you're having difficulty sleeping at night consider seeing a doctor, you may not be getting the rest you need.

Time of day is another important factor. Studies conducted by the NHTSA and the National Sleep Foundation indicate that crashes related to drowsy driving occur more often between the hours of 12-6 a.m. and 1-5 p.m.

The following countermeasures may help in reducing driver fatigue:

• Get enough rest on a daily basis. Sleep is the only true preventative measure against the risks of drowsy driving. Make it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

• Before the start of a long family car trip, get a good night's sleep, or you could put your entire family and others at risk.

• Many teens do not get enough sleep, at the same time that their biological need for sleep increases, thereby increasing the risk of drowsy-driving crashes, especially on longer trips.

• Avoid drinking any alcohol before driving. Consumption of alcohol interacts with sleepiness to increase drowsiness and impairment.

• If you take medications that could cause drowsiness as a side effect, use public transportation when possible. If you drive, avoid driving during the peak sleepiness periods (midnight to 6 a.m. and late afternoon).

• If you must drive during the peak sleepiness periods, stay vigilant for signs of drowsiness, such as crossing over roadway lines or hitting a rumble strip, especially if you're driving alone.

• Drinking coffee or energy drinks alone is not always enough. They might help you feel more alert. However, the effects last only a short time, and you might not be as alert as you think you are. If you drink coffee and are seriously sleep-deprived, you still may have "micro sleeps" or brief losses of consciousness that can last for four or five seconds. This means that at 55 miles per hour, you've traveled more than 100 yards down the road while asleep. That's plenty of time to cause a crash.

• If you start to get sleepy while you're driving, drink 1-2 cups of coffee and pull over for a short 20-minute nap in a safe place, such as a lighted designated rest stop. This has been shown to increase alertness in scientific studies but only for short time periods.

Think of drowsy driving the same way as drunk driving. Just as you should never get behind the wheel after you've had too many drinks, don't drive when you're tired. Consider this your wake-up call.

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