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Guarding Against the Catastrophic Dangers of Tired Drivers

A recent survey by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 1 in 24 adults in this country have fallen asleep behind the wheel. If this isn’t alarming enough, according to an Associated Press report, sleeping drivers are responsible for somewhere between 3 and 33 percent of all fatal motor vehicle accidents in the country.

Those Who Are Most Likely to Fall Asleep Behind the Wheel

While about 4 percent all adults in this country confessed to at least once falling asleep while driving, the survey found that this happened most by:

• Men

• People ages 25-34

• Those who typically got less than 6 hours of sleep per night

To guard against drowsy driving, researchers recommend that people get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, get treatment for sleep disorders, and avoid alcohol before driving. All common-sense recommendations.

Increased Risk for Drowsy Driving from Medications

Now comes a heightened concern about another possible cause for falling asleep behind the wheel: sleep medications.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings to the public and to drug manufacturers about zolpidem, an ingredient in most prescription sleep medications, such as Ambien. The FDA is particularly concerned with extended-release forms of the medicine, which stay in the body longer than the normal dosage.

Studies have shown that people – especially women – who have taken an extended release form of zolpidem can have high enough levels of the drug in their system the morning after they take it to significantly impair their driving.

New Recommended Doses for Insomnia Medications

The FDA has told drug manufacturers that the recommended dose of extended-release and even immediate-release version of medicines containing zolpidem should be cut in half for women: 5 mg rather than 10 mg for drugs containing the regular form of zoplidem, and 6.25 mg rather than 12.5 mg for extended-release versions. It suggests that these new levels also apply to men.

When a truck driver or driver of any vehicle falls asleep behind the wheel, it doesn’t take long to put others in peril. At 60 mph, a vehicle travels 88 feet, or about the length of two school buses, in just one second.