Suffolk County reportedly has recorded the most car accidents caused by sleepy drivers in the state; Stony Brook University researchers are on a mission to help turn that around.
The School of Health Technology & Management (SHTM) was recently awarded a General Highway Safety Grant to conduct research to put together insights, methods of prevention and a program to combat drowsy driving among college students.
The research project timeline runs from October of last year through September 2018 and will involve data collection on sleep habits and drowsy driving behaviors among Stony Brook commuter students, the development of a research-informed Drowsy Driving Prevention curriculum, a pilot implementation, and an external program evaluation.
“It is a myth that rolling down the windows and turning up the radio volume is a way to stay awake,” said Prof. Russell Rozensky, director of the Polysomnographic Technology Program (PTP) which is conducting the research as part of the SHTM. PTP consists of polysomnographic technologists that are health care practitioners who use “high-tech” equipment to diagnose and treat patients with sleep disorders.
According to stats compiled by the National Sleep Foundation, adults ages 18-29 are more likely to say they’ve driven drowsy (71 percent), compared to adults ages 30-64. The National Sleep Foundation estimated that younger drivers account for almost two-thirds of drowsy-driving crashes. A report conducted by SafeNY.ny.gov, a website developed by the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee that shares information about traffic safety and the state’s highway safety grant program, states that Suffolk County has the highest incidence of drowsy driving related crashes in all New York.
But the problem is not confined to New York. An estimated 6,000 fatal crashes nationwide each year are caused by people falling asleep at the wheel, according to the SHTM website.
The program and website StopDrowsyDriving.org were developed by the SHTM’s Drowsy Driving Prevention team in collaboration with the Governors Highway Safety Association and funded by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and the National Road Safety Foundation. The educational and interactive website includes a sleepiness assessment quiz to help users realize their own risk for drowsy driving, facts and myths about the problem and strategies to help improve sleep habits to reduce incidence of falling asleep at the wheel and crashes associated with that.
The Drowsy Driving project is housed within the SHTM’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership and includes Rozensky, Principal Investigator Lisa M. Endee, co-principal investigators Erik Flynn, Pamela Linden, Stephen G. Smith, and Project Research Assistant Anna Lubitz.
“Most people would never consider driving when drunk, yet would not think twice about getting behind the wheel when sleepy,” said Endee, who serves as clinical assistant professor of the Polysomnographic Technology Program. “Driving while sleep deprived can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is this important message that our Drowsy Driving Prevention team hopes to bring awareness to.”
SHTM’s drowsy driving team offered these 5 tips to avoid drowsy driving:
- Take Power Naps on the Road: If you find yourself drowsy while driving you should pull over to take a 30-minute power nap, according to Professor Russell Rozensky.
- Make Regular Pit Stops: Get out of the car to every 90 minutes or so to stretch, as it increases the alertness level and helps prevent fatigued muscles.
- Avoid Driving in Early Morning Hours: Do not drive between midnight and 6 a.m. Because of your body’s biological rhythm, this is a time when you will feel the most powerful need for sleep, Rozensky said.
- Drink Lots of Coffee or Caffeinated Beverages: Drinking caffeine or other caffeinated beverages helps with alertness. A caffeine buzz can last up to six hours, Rozensky said. Rozensky added that drinking coffee on car rides also may cause drivers and passengers to pull over frequently to make bathroom trips. This, in turn, allows them to stretch, keeping them awake and alert, he said.
- Use the Buddy System: Having somebody to interact with while driving keeps you awake and alert to your surroundings, according to Rozensky. “The passenger can evaluate the driver to see if the driver is showing signs and symptoms of drowsy driving such as yawning, difficulty focusing, heavy eyelids, frequent blinking, or zoning out,” he said.
For more tips and information on how to combat drowsy driving, visit
— Suzanne Mobyed