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Don’t speed, text or sleep behind the wheel

Staff Report • Sep 17, 2012 at 8:49 AM

Law enforcement officials have for years been advising drivers of things they should and shouldn’t do when they take to the highways. Following the speed limit is something drivers should be doing. Wearing a seat belt is another thing they should be doing.

Motorists shouldn’t drink and drive. Nor should they text when they are behind the wheel. That, like talking on a cell phone, is considered distracted driving. A study released earlier this year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 2 out of 10 drivers admit they have texted while driving. A majority of that number are teenagers and young adults.

Now comes a new safety threat on this nation’s highways — drowsy driving. The NHTSA estimates at least 100,000 crashes reported to police annually are caused by a sleepy driver.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has placed electronic message boards over interstate highways in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville to warn motorists: “Please, Don’t Drive Drowsy.” Safety officials say there have been at least 600 fatalities nationwide this year alone as a result of people driving while drowsy.

TDOT placed the message boards at the urging of a Memphis family who lost their son in a 2002 accident involving a drowsy driver. According to The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, Kyle Kiihnl was a 17-year-old junior at Houston High School in Germantown when a teenage driver fell asleep at the wheel and struck him and a friend while they were walking. The friend escaped with a broken thumb, but Kyle died at the scene.

Kyle’s family created a foundation in his name and established the “Eye Opener 5k” race to call attention to the problem of drowsy driving. During the event, family members and friends hand out flyers with the shocking statistics of fatigued driving.

Officials from the NHTSA say teenagers and young adults are the most likely to suffer from drowsy driving, as are shift workers and those who have a sleeping disorder. Drowsy driving is most likely to occur between midnight and 6 a.m., and is made particularly dangerous if the motorist has consumed alcohol.

If you begin feeling drowsy behind the wheel, experts advise you consume some caffeine (the equivalent of two cups of coffee should do) and find to safe spot to take at least a 20-minute nap before heading to a motel, friend’s house or home for a decent night’s sleep.

So let’s recap:

Don’t drink and drive.

Don’t text and drive.

And always stay awake when you are behind the wheel.

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