Motorists who try to avoid holiday traffic this weekend by driving at night or who hit the road right after a heavy Thanksgiving dinner are running the risk of falling asleep at the wheel, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.
In California, drivers who fell asleep at the wheel caused more than 1,250 crashes in 2001 that led to more than 1,750 deaths and injuries, according to statistics compiled by the California Highway Patrol.
"Driving when you are sleep-deprived is a recipe for disaster," said Arline Dillman, Ph.D., traffic safety manager for the Auto Club. "Drivers should get at least five hours of sleep before getting on the road, because those who are even slightly tired may not be able to react to road danger."
Dillman advises motorists who must travel between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. to make sure they're awake enough to drive, and alert enough to avoid other drivers who may be drowsy.
How do you know if you're too sleepy to drive? Dillman said to watch for these warning signs:
Eyes closing by themselves
Difficulty paying attention
Swerving in lane
If drivers experience any of these signs, they could fall asleep at any time. The Auto Club recommends that drowsy drivers pull over as soon as it is safe and take these steps:
Take a nap -- even 20 minutes will help.
Exercise after waking up to help increase alertness. Try running or walking while waving your arms.
Consume caffeine -- it can provide an extra boost.
The Auto Club offers the following tips to help motorists avoid drowsy driving:
Packing should be completed early enough before the trip to allow time for a normal night's sleep.
Try to set a limit of 300-400 miles of driving per day to limit fatigue.
Avoid driving long distances just after eating a heavy Thanksgiving meal, which will cause sleepiness.
Avoid medicines that may cause drowsiness.
When driving, keep your eyes moving from the left side of the road to the right. Focus on an object that is near, then an object that is far away.
Stay alert. Decide ahead of time how to react to possible dangers or driving situations.
Stop at regular intervals if driving a long distance. Get out of the car every two hours or so. Run in place, do jumping jacks, and breathe deeply.
About the Automobile Club of Southern California
The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, has been serving members since 1900.
Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs.
Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club's Web site at www.aaa.com.