If you are among the estimated 34.1 million Americans who will travel more than 50 miles from home Labor Day weekend, know that the summer-ending holiday consistently ranks among the 10 most dangerous days of the year to drive.
According to a recent survey by Sleepy's, a mattress company, a big reason for that danger is drowsy driving.
The Utah Department of Public Safety said that since 2007, an average of 1,085 crashes and 23 deaths each year result from drowsy driving. That's why it's not unusual to see signs posted on long stretches of freeway such as Interstate 80 east of Wendover warning drivers to pull over if they are becoming drowsy.
The highest concentration of accidents related to drowsy driving involve young, male drivers from rural parts of Utah. Statistics show that Millard, Juab and Emery counties had the highest percent of crashes involving drowsy drivers, and July and August had the highest number of crashes involving those struggling to stay awake at the wheel.
The Utah Department of Public Safety said warning signs for drowsy driving include difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids; wandering thoughts; trouble remembering the last few miles driven; yawning repeatedly; trouble keeping your head up; driving from your lane; and feeling restless and irritable.
The Sleepy's survey revealed that less than 50 percent of drivers stop when feeling drowsy or agree to share driving chores. Forty percent of drivers in the 18-to-29 age group said that driving tired is their normal state.
"With a third of our fellow drivers knowingly driving drowsy, we must be hyper-vigilant," said Nancy Rothstein, who bills herself as the sleep ambassador and is a consultant to Sleepy's. "Adequate sleep before driving and a commitment to pull over when you feel sleepy can go a long way toward reducing risk."
In a news release, she offered a five-point plan to avoid drowsy driving on a Labor Day road trip. Tips include:
• Don't skimp on sleep in the days before your trip.
• Plan your driving time for when you are the most alert.
• Share the driving whenever possible.
• Obey the yawn. The minute you start, pull over to rest and refresh.
• Don't use a phone conversation to keep you awake.