TAMPA, Fla. — If you're too tired to drive, don't get behind the wheel. AAA says the number of crashes involving drowsiness is eight times higher than what is being estimated nationally.
It only takes a second to close your eyes and drift out of your lane.
"I can’t tell you how many people have told me they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel and woke up just at the last second," said Jennifer Pearce, an advocate against drowsy driving.
Jennifer's 18-year-old sister, Nicole Lee, was killed when another driver fell asleep and slammed into a tree.
"Years later it’s still pretty tough to talk about," Pearce said. "It was a mistake, but it’s a mistake that’s very preventable."
Pearce has been in contact with the people involved in her sister's crash and says they are all very supportive of the efforts to end drowsy driving. She travels the country to educate people on driving tired.
AAA hooked up cameras in 3,593 cars, with driver permission, in six different states between 2010 and 2013. The cameras captured some terrifying scenes. One person almost hit a pole. Another tapped the back of a car. Many drivers drifted out of their lane.
Another video shows an officer pulling a man over, after spotting him speeding and not putting his signal on when changing lanes. The driver admitted to the officer he was tired and didn't get a lot of sleep.
The officer responds, "You got to be careful, being drowsy is just as bad as drinking and being distracted."
AAA research shows people between the ages of 16-24, and 75+ made up the most amount of drowsy driving crashes. The travel agency says it is hard to measure the problem because a lot of people do not admit to falling asleep if they get into a crash or even remember dozing off.
The research also shows most of the crashes happened during daylight hours.
"I see it every day," said Juan Coronel, a driver who pulls off at a rest stop on I-75 everyday as he heads to work.
Coronel says folks need to remember they share the road with others.
"If you have access to a rest area, I highly recommend it because even if it’s a 15, 20, 30 minute catnap when you wake up you feel rejuvenated and you continue with your journey," Coronel said.
AAA wants ro remind folks to never underestimate the power of a quick nap. But it should never be longer than 30 minutes.
Pearce goes to rest stops to hand out coffee. Even though her sister died 10 years ago, she says the fight to end this risky behavior is something she cannot give up on.
"When we do this kind of thing it’s kind of picking out a wound. We are definitely right there remembering every second of what we went through as a family," Pearce said. "But, we are resilient in that we don’t want another family to have to go through this."
Pearce says stiffer penalties for folks that fall asleep is something she wants to fight for too.
AAA says it is time to pull over if you have trouble keeping your eyes open, drift into another lane or cannot remember the last few miles of driving.
To avoid sleepy driving you should avoid heavy foods or medications that can cause drowsiness. Also, try to drive during hours when you would normally be awake. Finally, make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep, especially the night before you begin a long night.