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Risks of Drowsy Driving Are Focus of NHTSA Initiative

Government highway safety officials are hosting a two day conference at the nation’s capital as part of National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, which will bring together multiple branches of government, experts, and advocacy groups to address the risks associated with drivers falling asleep off behind the wheel. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that as part of the initiative designed to reduce the dangers associated with drowsy driving, the agency will be holding a symposium involving local, state, and federal government highway safety officials, as well as experts in sleep sciences, traffic safety, and public health.

The meetings will involve a discussion on the the impact that fatigued driving has on U.S. roadways, and the experts will work together to help identify potential corrective programs and policies.

A study (PDF) released this month by the American Automobile Association Foundation (AAA) found that more than two in five drivers, or 43.2%, surveyed admitted to falling asleep or nodding off while driving in their lifetime. Further results indicated that 17.4% of drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel more three times or more in their lifetime while 10% claimed the occurrences happened within the last 12 months.

AAA’s study estimates that an estimated 39.6% of drivers between the ages of 19 and 24 are at the highest risk of fatigued driving and most prone to accidents. Researchers reported that one out of every six deadly traffic accidents in the U.S. is a result of drowsy driving and the National Transportation Safety Board found that between 2001 and 2012 almost 40% of highway accidents identified fatigued driving as a contributing factor.

According to NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekinds opening statements at the “Asleep at the Wheel” forum on Tuesday, the agency estimates that drowsy driving alone accounts for at least 100,000 automobile collisions and 71,000 injuries resulting in between 5,000 and 7,000 fatalities each year in the United States due to fatigued driving. The monetary impacts are tremendous as well averaging around $12.5 billion annually.

In 2013, California alone accounted for almost 5,000 fatigued driving automobile collisions causing injuries to over 2,000 drivers and occupants.

The two forums held in D.C., one Wednesday, November 4, and the second today involve expert discussions on research and program objectives, public policy needs, connections between drivers and stakeholders, and core public education needs to address the risks, consequences and countermeasures related to drowsy driving, according to the NHTSA press release.

Rosekind stated the focus of the forums and advertising of the awareness is to wake up drivers across the nation, urging them not to take the wheel when drowsy and to present the facts and figures that prove this is a real problem in the U.S. causing thousands of fatalities annually.

An Australian study indicated staying awake for 24 hours is the equivalent of driving impaired with a .10 blood alcohol level, which is actually illegal. Being awake for 24 hours and then driving actually impairs your reaction time and judgment says lead author Jamie Dolan, regional coordinator for the Office of Highway Safety Planning.

California Highway Patrol (CHP) Commissioner Joe Farrow stated that traffic accidents are the largest player in teenage deaths in the U.S. causing more fatalities than cancer, homicide, and suicide combined. Farrow states the reason is primarily because the younger driving age group tend to stay up late, sleep too little, and drive at night.

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