Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Drowsy Driving

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Drowsy Driving

Article excerpt

IT MAY LACK the drama of drunken driving, but drowsy driving is even more common and can be just as deadly. Mix it with even one alcoholic drink and you have an asleep-at-the-wheel cocktail in the making.

The problem is worst at holiday times, when preparations and celebrations prompt millions to cheat on sleep and then drive, often after a drink, making the risk of dozing off behind the wheel greater than ever.

Even at quieter and more sober times, about 40 percent of adults are shortchanged on sleep and in danger of being lulled into slumber by humming tires on a dark road.

Compounding the problem is a growing fear of stopping to nap at highway rest areas, which in some states have become high-crime areas. In many states, rest areas are too small or too far apart to meet the needs of all the sleepy drivers.

Resulting accidents and the potential for tens of thousands more have prompted the National Sleep Foundation to mount a "Drive Alert-Arrive Alive" campaign to make every driver aware of the risks and the signs of impending trouble and to provide guidelines to make driving safer for everyone.

Each year at least 56,000 crashes, or 1 percent of the total number nationwide, can be attributed to driver fatigue, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which also says that 1,500 deaths, or 4 percent of the total, can be linked to this cause.

Others say this is a vast underestimation, as police are not trained to recognize accidents caused by driver fatigue, and accident reporting forms often lack a space to record it.

A more realistic estimate, these experts say, is that 200,000 accidents and about 15 to 20 percent of deaths each year are attributable to sleepiness. More exact data from Australia showed that 10 to 15 percent of traffic deaths and 30 percent of deaths on rural roads result from drivers' falling asleep.

A study of accidents on the New York State Thruway showed that drivers who fell asleep were responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the fatal crashes.

A recent telephone survey of 1,000 licensed drivers in New York state found that certain drivers are more likely to drive when drowsy and to crash as a result: men in general, young men in particular, the elderly and shift workers.

Dr. Ann McCartt, deputy director of the Institute for Traffic Safety in Albany, N.Y., reported that among drivers who crashed after falling asleep, one-third had consumed some alcohol and nearly half had been working either a night shift or overtime.

Another important risk factor is sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea, which causes loud snoring, disrupted sleep and daytime sleepiness. McCartt found that 34 percent of drivers who said they snored had fallen asleep while driving in the last year, as against only 17 percent who did not snore.

Many drivers insist they can tell when they are about to fall asleep, but research shows otherwise. …

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