Ask Emily Whitcomb
Addressing Causes of Fatigue can Help Reduce Drowsy Driving
"People realize that drinking or taking prescription painkillers dramatically impairs judgment and reflexes when they’re behind the wheel. Most don’t think that driving while fatigued can be equally dangerous. By identifying reasons and solutions for fatigue, we can reduce crashes, injuries and deaths from drowsy driving."
– Emily Whitcomb, Senior Manager, NSC Fatigue Initiative
What are the most common causes of fatigue?
A: The causes of fatigue can be split into two categories: biological and environmental. Biological causes include disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm (“body clock”) and sleep deprivation, often caused by chronic insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Environmental causes often occurring in the workplace include shiftwork, overtime, boring or mentally demanding tasks, and lighting and air quality.
Q: How much sleep is enough?
A: The average adult needs
at least seven hours of sleep a night, though a recent NSC survey found
43% of workers admit to not getting that much. Getting less than seven hours of sleep nightly leads to sleep deprivation and fatigue.
Q: What is the difference between sleep deprivation and insomnia? Where does sleep apnea fit in?
A: Sleep deprivation for adults is regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep per night, regardless of the reason. Chronic insomnia is when a person can't fall asleep or stay asleep. Obstructive sleep apnea happens when the airway becomes blocked during sleep and breathing stops for short periods of time. Chronic insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea are serious problems, and people who suspect they have either one should talk to their doctor.
Q: I'm used to getting about six hours of sleep a night, and I don't feel sleepy. Why should I be concerned about my ability to drive?
A: Fatigue is more than just feeling sleepy. It can show up in reduced energy, higher effort required to accomplish tasks and impaired decision making. Research shows:
- You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued
- More than 5,000 people died in drowsy-driving related crashes in 2014
- Losing even two hours of sleep can be similar to the effect of having three beers
- Being awake for more than 20 hours is similar to being legally drunk
You wouldn't drive drunk, so don't drive if you're sleep-deprived either. Get seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep every night and keep yourself, your family and your community safe from drowsy driving incidents.
Through her work at NSC, Emily helps employees and employers improve health, wellness and safety by interpreting scholarly research on fatigue and sleep health in ways that are easy to understand and act upon. Find more resources on this important topic at
Do you have a question about distracted driving? Please email it to Ron Kremer:
email@example.com. It could be featured in the next edition of Focus on the Drive.
Safe Driving Kit: Protect Your Organization and Your People
In the U.S.,
more than 40,000 people died in crashes in 2016, according to preliminary estimates from the National Safety Council. Another 4.6 million were injured seriously enough to require medical attention. That comes to more than 12,600 people receiving treatment each day.
While crashes remain the No. 1 cause of workplace deaths across America, employers pay for costs associated with crash injuries that occur on and off the job. In fact, off-the-job crashes account for 80% of employer crash-related health benefit costs. One of the best ways to save money and save lives is through traffic safety.
NSC and sponsor
Wheels make it easier to build senior management support for policies and education by offering the free
NSC Safe Driving Kit. The kit includes:
- Materials designed to share with employees year-round and reinforce company policies
- Fact Sheets and answers to FAQ
- Myth busters
- Posters and survivor advocate stories
Work to mitigate risks. Protect your organization, your employees and your community by using the NSC Safe Driving Kit to drive your traffic safety educational efforts.
Road to Zero Grows to 350 Members in 365 Days
You would need a mighty big cake to include one candle for each Coalition member on the first birthday of
Road to Zero, a collaboration focused on eliminating traffic fatalities by 2050. This goal is based on the fact traffic fatalities are preventable.
Road to Zero launched in October 2016 and is led by the National Safety Council in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation, specifically the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We invite you to
join the Road to Zero coalition, which is made up of 350-plus organizations and continuing to swell in ranks. There is no cost to join and all you are committing yourself to is your interest in being a stakeholder in ending traffic fatalities on our roadways.
As leader of the Coalition, the National Safety Council administers $1 million per year in Safe Systems Innovation Grants funded by NHTSA. NSC also is contributing $1 million over three years to support the Coalition and administer the grants program. Seven organizations received grants in 2017:
- Chicago Department of Transportation: Garfield Park
- Los Angeles Police Department: Priority Corridor Safety Details
- National Association for County Engineers: Advancing Local Road Safety Practices with State DOTs
- National Complete Streets Coalition: Safe Streets Academy
- Roadway Safety Foundation: usRap Across America
- San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency: Distracted Driving
- University of Michigan Traffic Research Institute: Reducing Fatalities: Framework for Identifying Future Needs in Technological Countermeasures & Public Policies
Moving forward, NSC will continue to grow the Coalition, run the Steering Group, oversee the long-term development scenario, which will produce a roadmap report on what is needed and how to get to Zero traffic fatalities, and promote the Road to Zero effort through speaking engagements, media placements, public policy initiatives and other mechanisms.
The next meeting of the Coalition is from 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, Oct. 13, in Washington, D.C. The topic of the meeting is "Saving Lives on the Road to Zero" and will feature National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, Global New Car Assessment Program Secretary General David Ward and a panel on creating Vision Zero: Systematically Applying What Works to Reach Zero.
Here is the link so you can
register for the meeting.
Open Recalls Pose Safety Risk: 1 in 4 Vehicles in Need of Repair
More than 53 million vehicles – about one in four – in the United States have open recalls that have not been repaired. This poses a serious risk to drivers and passengers because vehicles with open recalls are not as safe as they need to be.
To address this problem, the
National Safety Council launched Check To Protect this summer along with founding partner Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. The campaign encourages drivers to check the recall status of their vehicle and to have open recalls fixed as soon as possible. Dealerships must repair recalls at no charge to the vehicle owner.
Does your vehicle have an open recall? Go to
CheckToProtect.org to find out. Encourage your family members, friends and co-workers to do the same – and to take action if they have a recall.
Check To Protect focuses especially on drivers who have vehicles that are at least five years old, and used vehicles, because they have higher rates of open recalls. The campaign also is pursuing long-term solutions to improve recall compliance by bringing together key stakeholders from the automotive industry, traffic safety advocacy groups and government.