By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Nov 05, 2007 at 2:19 PM

Here's a scary statistic: Two out of five people in the United States -- 32 million people -- admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel within the past year, according to the National Sleep Foundation's annual "Sleep in America" poll.

We always hear about the consequences of drunk driving, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, the dangers of driving while drowsy are just as great. Just like alcohol, being tired slows reaction time and impairs judgment.

To reduce injuries and deaths caused by drowsy drivers, the foundation has launched its first annual Driving Drowsy Prevention Week, which kicks off today, Nov. 5 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 11.

Mequon's Endeavor Therapy & Sleep Center is participating in the national campaign.

In addition to young people, Drowsy Driving Prevention Week targets other high-risk groups such as commercial drivers, shift workers, and people with untreated sleep disorders. The goal is to educate the public, and to equip them with the tools needed to prevent fatigue-related crashes in the future.

The NSF provides these tips to avoid drowsiness while driving:

  • Get adequate sleep before you drive
  • Allow time for breaks on long trips -- about every 100 miles or two hours
  • Use the buddy system -- ask your passenger to stay awake during the drive, to help keep you awake and to share driving responsibilities
  • Don't drink alcohol and be aware of the potential side effects of any medications you may be taking - some cause drowsiness
  • Consume caffeine -- the equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours but should not be relied upon to overcome sleep deprivation.
  • If you become sleepy while driving, prevent a crash by pulling over to find a safe place to take a nap or sleep for the night.
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”