Stories produced by students in the Meek School of Journalism & New Media
By Greg Kennedy
With final exams and graduation parties just weeks away, there will be a lot of young people trying to get by on little sleep around Oxford. Experts say sleep deprivation can put you in a real danger if you also try to drive.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, young people, especially men 18-24 years of age, are most at risk for drowsy driving.
Daniel Kennedy is a former U.S. Army sergeant who says in 2007, he narrowly escaped death after falling asleep at the wheel.
“I was coming home on leave after not sleeping for 36 hours. The road conditions were icy which should have told me to stop driving. I fell asleep one mile from home and drove my car into a ditch causing it to flip over twice. I was lucky because I was wearing my seatbelt, but my car was totaled,” said Kennedy.
He said he never even considered the possibility of falling asleep driving.
“I knew I was tired, but thought I could keep pushing it and make it home. I ate food, drank energy drinks and even drove for a while with the windows down to help keep me awake. I cannot even tell you the last thing I saw or what was on the radio–it happened so sudden.”
In 2010, a study conducted by the AAA Foundation found young people 16-24 years of age most likely to get behind the wheel of a vehicle when tired, however, in actuality people of all ages do it.
In fact, according to this study, 2 out of 5 drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel sometime in their lives, while 30 percent of those polled reported that in the last 30 days, they had driven while they “were so sleepy that they had a hard time keeping [their] eyes open.”
Recognition and awareness are one of the keys to combat drowsy driving. Mike Gresham, a driving instructor for Con-way Freight, always stresses to his students the importance of noticing the signs of sleepiness while driving.
“We always stress self-awareness. Some easy indicators are excessive yawning, difficulty keeping eyelids open, not being able to recall the last few miles of a trip and, of course, swerving in and out of your lane,” said Gresham.
Even better is preventing sleepy driving in the first place. Whit Perry is the sleep lab director at Covenant Sleep Clinic in Oxford, and he says proper rest before beginning a long drive is the key to avoid sleepy driving.
“It is best that anyone going on a trip get between 7 to 8 hours of rest prior to departing. Actually, the Mayo Clinic now says that no less than 7.5 hours and no more than 8 hours of sleep should be had before driving for any amount of time or distance,” said Perry.
The potential dangers involved with drowsy driving are real and potentially unforgiving.
“Today I am very aware of the amount of sleep I get before we go on a trip that requires a lot of driving,” said Kennedy. “The thing that scares me is most people do not even know they are about to fall asleep before it happens. There are no goodbyes or chances to tell someone you love them in this case. It can all be so final.”Daniel Kennedy is the brother of reporter Greg Kennedy.