As research continues into drowsy driving, more is learned about the dangers of operating a motor vehicle while sleep deprived. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in every six fatal motor vehicle accidents is caused by a fatigue-impaired driver. Because of these risks and in response to the lack of public knowledge about this dangerous trend, this week has been declared Drowsy Driving Prevention Week across the country.
In a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 41 percent of responding drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, with one in ten stating that they had done so within the past year. It is clear that this is a widespread problem, but states have been slow to react. New Jersey is currently the only state with a law against driving while sleep deprived. In comparison, every state has laws against drunk driving.
However, research suggests that drowsy and drunk driving may not be too different, and may similarly result in car accidents, injuries or fatalities. "Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol," said AAA Foundation President Peter Kissinger. In a recent study, participants who had been awake for nearly 20 hours exhibited behaviors similar to someone with a 0.05 blood alcohol level.
New Jersey's drowsy driving law, known as Maggie's Law, dictates that a driver who causes a traffic fatality after being awake for 24 straight hours can be prosecuted for vehicular homicide. States such as New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Oregon are currently considering similar laws. However, in New Jersey and elsewhere, enforcement of these rules is difficult. While it is easy to determine whether someone is driving drunk with a breath or blood test, no such test exists for drowsy driving. Currently, a safety device is in development which would be able to determine if a driver has stopped braking, steering, or accelerating appropriately. However, researchers estimate that wide public use of the device is still in the fairly distant future.
Source: U.S. News & World Report, "Driving Drowsy as Bad as Driving Drunk", Deborah Kotz, 8 November 2010