drowsy driving

Lack of sleep mimics blood alcohol concentration. Image courtesy of the GHSA Wake Up Call report.

A new report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association says that drowsy driving causes one in five fatal crashes, and killed 5,000 people in the United States last year, according to an article on KIRO 7.

The report said drivers age 25 and younger are at the greatest risk, and are involved in half of all drowsy driving crashes. Also at an increased risk are those who work nights or irregular shifts, because they’re more likely to drive when they are tired, and an estimated 40 million people afflicted with sleep disorders.

Wake Up Call!

The report, called Wake Up Call!, was researched and written by Pam Fischer of Pam Fischer Consulting, and was funded by State Farm. It looks at the causes and the effects of drowsy driving and makes suggestions about what can be done to prevent it. The report discusses measures that can be taken legislatively, and by enforcement, education engineering, and in-vehicle technology.

In fact, because drowsy driving is such a danger, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has added drowsy driving to its impaired driving definition, which already included drunk, drugged, and distracted driving.

GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins, who oversaw the report’s development, said:

There are challenges associated with both measuring and combating drowsy driving. Law enforcement lack protocols and training to help officers recognize drowsy driving at roadside. And if a crash occurs, the drowsy driver may not report the cause due to concerns about monetary and other penalties.

Reducing Teen Drowsy Driving Accidents

The study said states can help to reduce the number of teens’ drowsy driving car accidents by focusing on two approaches:

  • Restricting night-time driving
  • Having later school start times

Restricted night-time driving helps because 39% of fatal crashes involving 16- and 17-year-olds take place at night. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2014 that schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later for middle- and high-school students. AAP said research makes it clear that adolescents who get adequate sleep are less likely to be involved in car crashes (or to be overweight, or suffer from depression). They are more likely to have good grades, higher scores on standardized tests, and a better overall quality of life.

The report mentions a three-year study of ninth- through 12th-grade attending eight high schools in Colorado, Minnesota and Wyoming. The schools had later start times, ranging from 8 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. That study found that the number of crashes involving drivers between 16 and 18 dropped by 13% after the school start times were made later. In one of the schools, Teton County School District, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the crash rate in the 16-18 age group fell 70% one year after the start time was changed from 7:35 a.m. to 8:55 a.m.

Changing Our View of Sleep

Fischer wrote that we need to change the way people view sleep, which is “a restorative and life-sustaining activity that is just as important as eating right and exercising.” When we don’t get enough sleep, we don’t have a quick reaction time, an ability crucial for safe driving. Lack of adequate sleep affects us both mentally and physically. This change in attitude will take the efforts of public health, business, academia, and nonprofits.

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