Sleep Deprivation

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Most of us lead busy lives and are therefore tempted to try to reduce sleep time in order to fit in activities such as studying, working an extra job or watching television. In fact, many people brag about how little sleep they need. Yet, sleep deprivation can cause accidents, particularly if you operate a motor vehicle or machinery such as farm and industrial equipment.

People falling asleep at the wheels of their cars are responsible for approximately 2% of all driver fatalities. Nearly one in every three Americans reports having fallen asleep at the wheel. The comfort and ease of driving todayís cars Ė the combination of cruise control, power steering and soft seats, along with the hypnotic effect of highway driving Ė can lull drivers into a drowsy state. The prime times for "asleep-at-the-wheel" crashes are between midnight and 7 a.m. Ė when itís natural to feel sleepy Ė and between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

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Once I was called to the scene of a fatality on a straight stretch of highway. The car had driven off the road and rolled several times, killing both occupants. They were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the vehicle. The road was bare and dry and lightly traveled at the time. There were no skid marks. It was assumed the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.

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A few things to remember about drowsiness and driving:

A reader submitted this story about the consequences of driving while sleep deprived.

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In a New York Minute

The call came about 8:00 p.m. on a clear, sunny June evening. I didnít know it at the time but "in a New York minute" our lives had changed forever because someone had fallen asleep at the wheel.

The caller from the emergency room at the city hospital said my husband had been in an accident but he was okay. In retrospect, "okay" was a pretty generous term for his condition. But, considering that my husband was involved in a head-on highway collision, was removed from the vehicle by the jaws-of-life and airlifted to the hospital, he was lucky to be alive.

A great attitude and an iron will were the main factors in his amazing physical recovery. Prior to the accident he was a young, vibrant man with a promising career ahead of him. Now, because of head injuries sustained in the accident, any kind of career really isnít an option. I think my husband copes as well as anyone could with the depression, anger, pain and frustration that that are now part of his daily life.

For years, I pictured the driver of the other vehicle as some kind of monster because of the effect his actions had on our lives. But when I met him, I felt sorry for him. Heís just an ordinary person who, through a seemingly small mistake, caused a lifetime of hardship to both his family and ours.

If youíre tired, pull off the road, donít let this happen to you.

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Copyright 1999 by SafetyHealth Publishing Inc.

Martin Lesperance is a fire fighter/paramedic, best selling author and humorous speaker. Visit his website for more safety articles and information on his speaking services. www.safete.com or call him at (403) 225-2011.