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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Shedding Light on Driving in the Dark

Shedding Light on Driving in the Dark

Government Agencies Launch Effort to Promote Driver Safety

The Vision Council and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) are working together to inform US drivers about two under-recognized driving hazards that are just as deadly as poor road conditions and drunk driving: poor vision and drowsy driving, especially at night.

In a recent survey, respondents reported eyestrain (38 percent), dry or tired eyes (34 percent), fatigue (25 percent) and an inability to focus (18 percent) while driving at night. Additionally, both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Safety Council say the fatality rate at nighttime (6:00 P.M. - 6:00 A.M.) is three times greater than during the sunlight hours.

There are over 11 million Americans with uncorrected vision problems, which can considerably reduce their ability to drive safely. Because 85 percent of the information needed for safe driving is visual, regular eye exams are an integral part of driver safety. Ed Greene, CEO of the Vision Council, said, "We rely on our eyes every time we step into a car, especially our peripheral vision, depth perception and focusing skills. This link between vision and driving makes it essential for motorists to take steps to maintain healthy vision, just as they take other safety precautions on the road."

Additionally, the 2008 Sleep in America Poll discovered that 64 percent of drivers who work at least 30 hours per week admit to operating a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past 12 months, and over one-third, 36 percent, have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Sleep-related accidents are most common in young people, particularly men, shift workers, commercial drivers, and those with untreated sleep disorders. NHTSA conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported accidents occur directly from driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 fatalities, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in financial losses each year.

"Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but are unaware that driving drowsy can be just as fatal," said Darrel Drobnich, chief program officer at NSF. "In fact, traffic safety and sleep experts believe that drowsy driving is much more common than even federal statistics indicate."

According to recent research, even a single night of sleep deprivation can adversely impact a driver's ability to coordinate eye movement with driving a car. Sleepiness is like alcohol, affecting your vision, slowing reaction time, decreasing awareness and increasing your risk of crashing.

To enhance vision and prevent drowsy driving, the National Sleep Foundation and The Vision Council recommends the following:

• See an eye doctor for regular comprehensive eye exams. Often, serious and progressive eye diseases do not have noticeable symptoms. An eye doctor can also make sure that your prescription is current.

• Always use your prescription eyewear, and make sure that your glasses are clean. Regularly remove dirt and fingerprints that can interfere with vision, especially at night.

• Wear anti-reflective (AR) lenses that reduce lens glare by increasing the amount of light that reaches the eye, and eliminate harmful glare due to reflections off the back surfaces of lenses.

• Get enough sleep. Typically, adults need 7-9 hours to maintain proper alertness during the day. Before getting behind the wheel, make sleeping a priority.

• Schedule driving breaks and arrange for a travel companion. During long trips, switch drivers about every 100 miles, or two hours.

• Look for the warning signs of fatigue: impaired reaction time and judgment; decreased performance, vigilance and motivation; difficulty focusing, and keeping your eyes open or your head up; daydreaming and wandering thoughts; yawning or repeatedly rubbing your eyes; drifting from your lane; tailgating and missing signs or exits; and feeling restless, irritable or aggressive. If you are rolling down the window, turning up the stereo or experiencing one of these signs of fatigue, immediately pull over at safe place for a short nap or locate a place to stay for the night.

For more information about vision and safe driving, or to find an eye doctor in your area, visit

To learn more about drowsy driving and Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, held in November, visit

To learn more about drowsy driving and sleep disorders visit: or

Online courses are now available to educate drivers on the rules of the road and the latest defensive driving techniques. Try it today!

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