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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


The need for sleep


There are lots of continuing campaigns and meritorious messages for young drivers to avoid using electronic devices, mainly phones, while driving.  Those incessant reminders are worthy ones for teens and older drivers alike, but the youngest drivers are highly subject to another peril: drowsy driving.

“Hang up and drive,” is one of the repeating warning messages to teen and young adult drivers. But for thousands of those young people, the message should suggest that they “Wake up and drive.”  That’s because ironically, the youngest, strongest, healthiest drivers are also the most likely to fall asleep during their school/work commutes and other vehicle journeys.

According to researchers at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), two-thirds of all drowsy-driving crashes involve people under age 30, with males outnumbering females by five-to-one. Sleep deprivation is theorized as the likely cause.

Teens and 20 to 30 year-olds miss out on necessary sleep due to a combination of sleep patterns.  That group of young people naturally tends to be more alert late at night, so they often go to bed too late to get all of the recommended sleep that they need on weekdays.  Schoolwork demands, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and late-night socializing all take a toll on needed rest. The average high school senior sleeps just 6.9 hours on weeknights — far short of the optimal nine hours needed on weeknights by people that age, as recommended by the NSF.

That is a point of concern when you consider that, according to the NSF, being awake for 18 hours produces driving impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 (.08 is legally under the influence).  Other groups at high risk for drowsy driving include night-shift workers, long-haul truckers, people with untreated sleep disorders, and those with chronic insomnia.

Young adults and older drivers may be on their own to guard against driving while drowsy, but parents can intervene in the case of susceptible teen drivers.  Below is a checklist for clues that your teen may be sleep deprived.  Of course, you should also make sure your teen is aware of the other dangers of driving such as distraction by electronics or passengers, excessive speed, improper following distance, ignorance of road rules, et cetera.

With school and related activities resuming, the topic is especially pertinent.  Driver fatigue causes 100,000 accidents a year and kills more than 1,550 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  So how can you tell if your son or daughter is tired enough to be at risk of a drowsy driving crash?  The NSF says to watch out if he or she:

  • must be awakened for school or work, especially if with great difficulty;


  • sleeps two or more hours later on weekends than on weeknights;


  • relies on caffeinated beverages in the morning to wake up or consumes two or more during the day;


  • naps more than 45 minutes regularly.

Good sleep habits consist of a regular bedtime with no television or other electronics in the bedroom and no caffeine after lunch.  Those basic habits, combined with avoiding sleep-robbing over-commitments can help reduce the risks of nodding off at the wheel.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at