Autopilot Isn’t The Issue. Drowsy Driving Is.

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Drowsy driving is more common than you think.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that “no one knows the exact moment when sleep comes over their body. Falling asleep at the wheel is clearly dangerous, but being sleepy affects your ability to drive safely even if you don’t fall asleep”.

An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (18 and over) have reported falling asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days, according to a survey conducted in 2013.

The CDC’s webpage on drowsy driving helps one to treat this as a disease, rather than a habit, and this is a pretty smart way for individuals to help themselves when it comes to solving the issues in their own personal life — especially if it’s something that happens more than frequently.

Drowsy driving is clearly a dangerous combination of driving and being extremely fatigued or sleepy, but the causes may vary. This can happen when the driver has not had enough rest, but it can also be a result of untreated sleep disorders, working long hours, or even a side effect of some medications.

Also, even though it’s illegal to do so, drivers who consume alcohol and then drive are also at high risk for falling asleep at the wheel.

The National Safety Council addresses drowsy driving and includes data from a Governors Highway Safety Association report that says an estimated 5,000 people died in 2015 in crashes that involved drowsy driving.

The National Sleep Foundation says that about half of U.S. adult drivers have admitted to getting behind the wheel while drowsy. 20% said they actually fell asleep at the wheel sometime last year.

In 2017, the NHTSA states that there were 91,000 vehicle crashes (reported to police) that involved drowsy driving. 4,011 fatalities that involved drowsy driving happened between 2013 and 2017.

The NHTSA also points out that key factors contributing to drowsy driving are: common attitudes toward it, the fact that sheer exhausting is a common issue, and that crashes occurs mostly between midnight and 6 am.

These crashes often involve only a single driver — usually no passengers — and they drive off the road at a high rate of speed with zero signs of braking. And they frequently occur on rural roads or highways.

How Does Autopilot Factor Into This Equation?

Recently, there has been a video circulating on Twitter. In the video, a Tesla driver is asleep at the wheel with his head down and so is the passenger, her head rolled back.

CNBC points out that “It’s unknown whether the driver was actually asleep at the wheel, or attempting a hoax. Other Tesla owners have posted related prank videos online in the past.” And many comments on Twitter suggest the video is actually staged.

Perhaps you trust these statements from Tesla owners. Perhaps you don’t. Given the statistics above, though, what many people know is that it’s far too easy and common to fall asleep while driving. What people really want to know is if Autopilot is safe. Thinking about that, we need to take into consideration the fact that the Massachusetts State Police informed WHDH Boston that “police are aware of the video but no report has been filed” — in other words, no accident was reported. So, either, the event was faked, Autopilot woke up the driver, or Autopilot protected the driver long enough for him to wake up. None of those are ideal scenarios, but they are better than someone driving off the road or into another car. In any of those cases, though, what’s important is that drivers are fully responsible for their cars 100% of the time and need to remain alert.

Tesla states on its website that:

“Autopilot is intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time. While Autopilot is designed to become more capable over time, in its current form, it is not a self-driving system.”

Pro tip: This means that the driver should not be sleeping at the wheel. Drivers need to be focused and awake while keeping their hands on the wheel and need to be prepared to take control at any time.

Note that if a driver takes his or her hands off the wheel for too long, the car makes a very loud sound. If a driver is so exhausted that she or he falls asleep and is able to sleep through that noise, then the person has fallen victim of drowsy driving, which is both 100% preventable and common.

Autopilot has been credited by many for saving their lives, preventing accidents, and possibly picking up on a falling meteor.

Prevent Drowsy Driving

The CDC recommends that most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a day, while teenagers need at least 8. You should develop good sleeping habits such as sticking to a sleep schedule. If you have any sleep disorders or symptoms that show up during the day, you may need to talk to your doctor.

Also, avoid drinking alcohol or taking medicines that make you sleepy. Always check the label on any medications if you are driving.

Know the warning signs. Yawning and blinking frequently are obvious signs, but also if you don’t remember much about the past few miles you’ve driven, then you need to pull over and find somewhere safe to take a nap.

Missing your exit, drifting from your lane and hitting those bumpy rumble strips on the side of the road are also warning signs that you are about to fall asleep.

Drivers who get into a car should always remember that they are the ones ultimately responsible — not Tesla and not Autopilot. If a driver is using Autopilot, that person needs to be fully focused and alert.

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Johnna Crider

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

Johnna Crider has 1996 posts and counting. See all posts by Johnna Crider