Gridlock Guy: Drowsy driving is no laughing matter

Ever since I was a little kid I have been a huge fan of stand-up comedy. From Buddy Hackett, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor to George Carlin and Jerry Seinfeld I watched and listened to as much stand-up comedy as I could. I love the format so much that every Friday evening I interview a stand-up comedian on my radio talk show.

Years ago I remember a comedian doing a bit on falling asleep while driving. The comedian commented that even when we catch ourselves falling asleep behind the wheel, the dramatic act of almost dying doesn’t fully wake us up. The comedian used his own personal experience to say just two minutes after falling asleep while driving, he started to doze off again.

The comedian then compared that to someone breaking into your bedroom and shooting a gun at your pillow narrowly missing your head and killing you. The comedian asked, “If that happened, would you be able to fall back asleep?”

Obviously, the answer is no. So why then does it happen when we are drowsy while driving?

I was reminded of this stand-up comedian last week when the National Transportation Safety Board held a forum on drowsy driving in Washington D.C.

According to data from AAA, up to 40 percent of drivers have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. Unfortunately I am one of the 40 percent.

I can remember, back in college, when I was burning the candle at both ends (working fulltime and going to school fulltime) falling asleep behind the wheel on my car driving on a winding back road in Connecticut. I fortunately woke up when my car starting driving on the side of the road before I hit a tree. But, the comedian was correct. Even though I had almost gotten into a serious crash, minutes later I was nodding off behind the wheel again. It was then I finally came to my senses and pulled my car off the road to take a nap.

A big issue when it comes to drowsy drivers is people don’t always realize how tired they are when behind the wheel.

“Humans are just horribly inaccurate if we have to self-diagnose fatigue,” Mark Rosekind, board member of the National Transportation Safety Board said. “That’s what allows us to put ourselves in life-threatening situations.”

Even a small lack of sleep can impact our ability to drive. According to the NTSB, losing just two hours of sleep in one night can slow a driver’s reaction time down by 20 percent.

As a result, drowsy drivers are the cause for a large percentage of crashes. A study released claims that up to one out of five accidents is caused by a tired driver.

I learned my lesson years ago, from both my own experiences and an unknown standup comic. Drowsy driving is no laughing matter.

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