NORFOLK (NNS) -- The Naval Safety Center reminded Sailors and Marines Dec. 22 about the dangers of driving fatigued, and how to avoid it.
Off-duty motor vehicle fatalities continue to be the leading non-combat killer of Sailors and Marines. Fatigue is one of the leading causal factors.
The risk is higher than normal during this time of the year, when many are anxious to get on the road despite spending the previous few weeks sleep-deprived in an effort to complete work and holiday preparations before going on leave or liberty.
Many Sailors and Marines who are deservedly excited about the opportunity to spend the holidays with their families don't count on finding themselves in bumper to bumper holiday traffic, said Dan Dray, a traffic safety specialist at the Naval Safety Center. The flashing brake lights in front of them can cause a hypnotic trance as what should have been a four or five-hour drive stretches into six, seven or eight.
"The biggest problem we see is that people are so excited to go home that they don't stop and take the breaks necessary to keep them alert behind the wheel," said Dray
He said that many Sailors and Marines believe they've learned how to beat fatigue on the highway, but nothing can take the place of actual rest.
"They'll try coffee, calling friends, rolling down the windows or turning up the radio, but it doesn't help. If you're tired, you need to stop," Dray said.
The Naval Safety Center recommends drivers take short breaks every two hours to stretch their legs and just get a break from staring at the highway. However, it's also important to know when fatigue has lowered reflexes to the point that short breaks aren't enough. Sometimes it's necessary to stop and get a hotel room for the night.
"It's much better to get there the next day than not at all," Dray said.
Many Sailors and Marines who just want to get home as quickly as possible are unaware that there are state laws limiting how many miles drivers can log in one day.
"Most states say you can't drive more than 12 hours in one 24-hour period," Dray said. "Here at the Safety Center, we recommend that if you're working and traveling on the same day, both activities should not exceed 12 hours."
That means if a Sailor or Marine puts in a full eight hour workday, he or she shouldn't drive more than four hours. That's something to keep in mind when planning holiday travel. Planning is the key word. A good plan for driving reasonable distances - taking holiday traffic and weather conditions into account - goes a long way toward making sure all occupants of the vehicle reach their destination and return to work in the New Year.
The Naval Safety Center has resources about fatigue and other driving hazards available at www.public.navy.mil/navsafecen. There is also a link to the Travel Risk Planning System (TRiPS) - an online survey that helps drivers recognize the risks in their planned travel and manage them. To date, more than 275,000 have traveled on approved TRiPS assessments with zero fatalities.