FORT RUCKER, Ala. - As Soldiers, time and again we hear about the dangers of drinking and driving. In an effort to combat it, some commanders have even set up programs to help pay for taxis and ride-sharing services in case their Soldiers' safe-ride plans fall through. While this is an excellent idea, I wonder why increased emphasis isn't placed on other dangerous driving situations. While I definitely agree drinking and driving is bad, I believe there is a more common activity that not only rivals it, but possibly surpasses it in danger -- fatigued driving.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics indicate drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 vehicle crashes a year, resulting in about 71,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. Those stats may be only the tip of the iceberg, however, because, according to NHTSA, drowsy driving is underreported as a cause of crashes. A National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll revealed that 60 percent of adult drivers say they have operated a motor vehicle while drowsy during the past year. I'll admit that I've been guilty of it too. Here's an example.

After being released from work one afternoon, I hopped in my already-packed car and started a 12-hour journey across this great nation. The trip started out easy enough, and the hours seemed to fly by. But as night approached, the drive got dreary and I was having problems focusing on the road. I tried all the classic techniques to stay alert like rolling down the window, turning up the music and chewing gum, but nothing worked. Eventually, I resorted to relying on the rumble strips to help me stay awake. Still, I could barely keep my eyes open and my reaction time was significantly delayed. I was showing the classic signs of fatigue. I'd become a traveling time bomb, just waiting to explode.

Fortunately, I was able to make it to my destination without causing an accident. But this trip could have easily ended differently. People like me, who work different shifts or are constantly traveling through numerous time zones, are at higher risk of a driving accident due to fatigue. It's important that we set up personal boundaries so we can avoid this dangerous situation. After all, driving drowsy is on par with driving drunk and has killed more people than it should.

According to the American Automobile Association, there are several warning signs to drowsy driving, including:

- The inability to recall the last few miles traveled
- Having disconnected or wandering thoughts
- Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
- Feeling as though your head is very heavy
- Drifting out of your lane, perhaps driving on the rumble strips
- Yawning repeatedly
- Accidentally tailgating other vehicles
- Missing traffic signs

The NSF recommends motorists take the following countermeasures before hitting the road:

- Get adequate sleep. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to maintain proper alertness during the day.
- Schedule proper breaks. Plan to stop about every 100 miles or two hours during long trips.
- Arrange for a travel companion. Bring someone along to talk with and share the driving.
- Avoid alcohol and sedating medications. Make sure you check the warning labels on medications or ask your doctor of potentially dangerous side effects.

Above all, if you find yourself getting sleepy behind the wheel, find a safe place to pull off the road and get some rest. I'm sure your friends and loved ones would much rather you arrive a little late than not at all.

Now that I'm older, I realize that if I fall asleep at the wheel, I'm not only endangering my life, but the lives of everyone I encounter on the road. Sadly, that's a lesson some will have to learn the hard way. We must keep an eye out for these individuals and educate them on the dangers of driving fatigued before it's too late. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. Let's do everything we can to keep them alive!

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