Catching sleep and crashing cars

Julia Kuhn, Features Writer

The dangers of drinking and driving are well publicized, but drowsy driving is proving to be just as deadly.

“The effects are similar to drunk driving, such as reduced reaction time and impaired judgment,” Tom O’Connell, Lake Zurich Police Officer, said. “Accidents are caused by people falling asleep at the wheel because they swerve into other lanes or don’t have time to hit the brakes.”

100,000 accidents are the result of driver fatigue each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These crashes cause an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Linde Parcels, senior, knows the dangers of drowsy driving. She fell asleep at the wheel while driving on Route 22 and crashed into a mailbox, causing almost $400 worth of damage to her car

“After I crashed, I was almost afraid to drive, and I was definitely nervous about getting back on the road,” Parcels said. “Also, the accident caused my insurance rates to go $50 a month for two to three years…and then about a $380 deductible I had to pay all myself.”

Shane Williams, Drivers Ed. teacher, recognizes the dangers of drowsy driving, and talks to his Drivers Ed. classes about the two types of drowsy driving.

“We talk in class about the two different types: tunnel vision and falling asleep at the wheel,” Williams said. “A lot of people think drowsy driving always means falling asleep, eyes closed, and drooling, but it can also mean tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is where you lose focus on the road and space out, and happens mostly when you’re tired and can’t concentrate.”

Parcels said she thinks her lack of sleep caused a lack of concentration, similar to the effects of tunnel vision.

“My day started off with me going straight from a youth program overnighter. . .to my friend Maggie’s diabetes walk,” Parcels said. “I was exhausted at the walk, and just wanted to lie down anywhere. At Maggie’s, I fell asleep for like an hour, then woke up and went to drive to work, which is when I crashed. Driving right after waking up from a small nap, I was so disoriented and still felt half asleep. I was already on so little sleep, so to throw in literally waking up and driving so close together made it worse for sure.”

People between the ages of 18 to 29 are much more likely to drive while drowsy compared to other age groups, and although younger drivers are the most likely to drive when drowsy, young drivers are the least likely to pull over and nap, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Getting off the road either by napping or having someone else drive is the best way to deal with drowsy driving, according to O’Connell.

“When I see a drowsy driver on patrol, the most important thing is to get them off the road,” O’Connell said. “I either drive them home, have someone call to come get them, or have them pull over and take a nap. Unless they’re involved in an accident, ticketing isn’t our main concern, getting them off the road is.”

The main problem regarding drowsy driving is the lack of concern for the dangers, said Williams.

“People don’t see it as a big issue, they just think, ‘I’m tired, but I can still drive,'” Williams said. “It can be tough for young drivers, and it is something that they need to acknowledge as a danger of driving.”

Parcels agrees that the dangers of drowsy driving are not recognized.

“I think people definitely do not realize drowsy driving is dangerous,” Parcels said. “I would’ve never thought I could fall asleep at the wheel until it happened.”

The dangers of drowsy driving do not only include physical damage to the car, but may include other, more serious consequences.

“The cost of fixing my car was a lot, but I was actually really lucky,” Parcels said. “The police could’ve technically given me some tickets that would’ve been on my permanent record, and my parents could’ve punished me more, but the thing I always think about is I’m so lucky I only hit a mailbox because I could’ve hit a person, and that would’ve been devastating.”