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Driving while drowsy can be dangerous, deadly

Sunday - 11/6/2011, 5:56pm  ET

WASHINGTON - Have you ever driven while drowsy? Did you know it can be deadly?

Drowsy driving results in more than 1,500 deaths and 70,000 injuries each year. This week is Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.

Dr. Thomas LoRusso, medical director of the Northern Virginia Sleep Diagnostic Center, says drivers should avoid traveling when they're normally sleeping.

"Getting up and three or four in the morning, your melatonin levels are still quite high, and you're going to be quite vulnerable to falling asleep at that point," says LoRusso.

He says you should take breaks every 100 miles or about every two hours.

Drivers should also pay attention to signs that are getting drowsy, like constantly yawning, or opening a window or blasting the radio to keep alert.

"If someone was up the entire night without sleep, and they got behind the wheel... they'd be as impaired as someone who was legally drunk," says LoRusso.

LoRusso recommends driving with a friend, and caffeine can help.

"It does help you short term in terms of staying alert," says Dr. LoRusso.

WTOP's Debra Feinstein contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)