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    Can driving drowsy be just as dangerous as driving drunk? (Getty Images)

    by: David Sedgwick | AOL Autos
     

    Drowsy drivers don’t attract as much public opprobrium as drunk or distracted drivers, but maybe they should.

    According to a newly released survey of 2,000 motorists by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 41 percent of drivers admitted they had “fallen asleep or nodded off” while driving at least once. Eleven percent said they had done so within the past year, and four percent said they had fallen asleep behind the wheel in the previous month.

    Moreover, one in four motorists admitted they had driven when they were “so sleepy that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open” within the past month.

    Given the mushy nature of the data, it’s hard to make accurate estimates of the number of accidents caused by fatigue. After all, haven’t all of us nodded off at one time or another?

    Nevertheless, AAA’s researchers concluded that as many as 16 percent of all fatal crashes involved a drowsy motorist – a much higher estimate than earlier studies which attributed less than four percent of fatal accidents to fatigue.

    “Researchers have always thought that drowsy driving is under-reported, and that’s what this study found,” said AAA spokesman Dan Bleier. “We know that it’s a problem, and people need to pay attention to it.”

    There were some other interesting findings: Men are much more likely than women to drive while fatigued, and motorists between the ages of 16 and 24 also are high risks. Though most of us would associate drowsy driving with long overnight trips, a substantial number of incidents occurred during short trips in the afternoon.

    Ten Dead, Five Hurt

    If AAA is correct, drowsy motorists are almost as dangerous as drunk drivers, who caused one third of all fatal accidents last year.

    A particularly horrific example of drowsy driving surfaced in September, when the National Transportation Safety Board released its investigation of a crash that killed 10 people on a highway near Miami, Oklahoma.

    On the afternoon of June 26, 2009, a Ford Focus headed east on Interstate 44 sideswiped a tractor-trailer parked on the right shoulder. The driver lost control, hit the concrete median and came to a halt in the left lane. No injuries so far, but the fender bender tied up traffic.

    Six minutes later, a 76-year-old trucker driving a Volvo tractor-trailer failed to notice that the cars ahead of him had stopped. He never slowed and he never swerved. Going 69 mph, his truck slammed into the rear of a Land Rover, rode over a Hyundai Sonata and a Kia Spectra, then smashed into a Ford Windstar minivan. The out-of-control rig shoved the Windstar into a livestock trailer towed by a Ford pickup, which in turn hit a Chevy Tahoe. The final toll: 10 dead, and five injured.

    Investigators concluded that the truck driver suffered from acute fatigue.

    The report also recommended that all new commercial trucks be equipped with collision warning systems. Such a device “would have significantly reduced the likelihood that this accident could ever have happened,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

    One might logically ask whether drowsiness detection systems should also be mandated for vehicles. Wouldn’t it make sense to detect dangerous behavior before an accident is imminent?

    “Time For A Rest?”

    Indeed, several automakers have tinkered with such devices. For example, Mercedes-Benz has developed a system called Attention Assist, which is standard equipment on E-Class, CL-Class and some S-Class sedans.

    If the system’s sensor detects erratic steering, an audible warning sounds and the instrument panel flashes the message: “Time for a rest?”  Such initiatives “give the driver feedback to wake up and get off the road safely,” says Justin McMaull, AAA’s director of state relations. 

    But somehow, it doesn’t seem plausible to expect exhausted motorists will pull over simply because the dashboard is flashing an icon of a coffee cup. Behaviorists might argue that motorists won’t change their behavior unless they can be punished for it.

    That approach is getting a test in New Jersey, which passed a law banning drowsy driving in 2003. Jersey motorists involved in a traffic accident are considered to be “knowingly fatigued” if they’ve been awake more than 24 hours. Maximum penalties include a 10-year prison sentence and a $100,000 fine.

    But drowsy motorists are harder to identify than drunk drivers. You can’t give a motorist a Breathalyzer test for fatigue, McMaull notes. It’s hard to prove in court, which may be why no other state has followed New Jersey’s lead.

    Still, McMaull says the law isn’t useless. “The idea is to send a message to motorists,” he says. “And prosecutors can use it as a legal tool after a serious crash.”

    Is the problem getting worse? It isn’t clear. This is AAA’s first survey of drowsy drivers -- perhaps subsequent studies will reveal a trend.

    In the meantime, motorists should use some common sense:

    1.    If you’re on a long trip, pull over for a break every couple of hours.
    2.    Have some coffee; it will perk you up for awhile.
    3.    A companion in the car can keep you awake and share driving chores.
    4.    Break up long trips with an overnight motel stop. Don’t attempt an all-night drive.
    5.    Stay away from alcohol. A fatigued motorist on booze is double trouble.

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    Discuss
    1 - 20 of 67 Comments
    Ojebay Dec 21, 2010 6:59 PM
    I don'even weave when I drive after drinking, and have never been tired after drinking. But I have run off the road reveral times and even wrecked a car after dozing off. A few times getting onto the shoulder of the road is what woke me up. I remember that twice I had to pull over and take a short nap within 2 miles of my house after working too many hours without enough sleep. I also remember traveling with my wife and three kids from NJ to NC for Christmas one year. I was on one af the few short stretches of I-95 that existed back in the mid-sixties, the rest was all Hwy 301. Suddenly my wife grabbed my arm, I woke up and had to do some emergency braking. I came within about a foot of the rear of a tractor trailer. My wife told me that I had my eyes wide open and she could not understand why I was speeding up and didn't react to the trailer coming up fast. A tired driver is much more dangerous to him/her-self and others, than a drunk driver. I would wager that 99.999 percent of all drunk drivers make it home safely. A tired driver will push him/her-self to the limit trying to get to their destination. Unfortunately no statistics can be acurately compiled.
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    hwkipp Dec 04, 2010 9:32 PM
    I have experienced intermittant drowsiness while driving for some years. The feeling may begin after I have been behind the wheel for as little as a half hour or after having driven for several hours or sometimes not at all. Fortunately, I can feel the drowsiness coming on; and know that after the first yawn I have perhaps 5 minutes remaining during which I have adequate control. If a rest stop is nearby, I use it to take a brief nap. In the absence of a rest stop, I pull over onto the shoulder of a highway or into a parking lot. After a nap of 15 to 30 minutes, I feel completely refreshed and alert. On several occasions a patrol car has stopped behind my car and an officer asked if everything was all right. After hearing my explanation, I have been told that I had done the right thing. It works for me!
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    chrissf4529 Dec 04, 2010 2:41 PM
    " Mythbuster" had a program testing the very same ideas. Which is more dangerous Drunk or tired. Unfortunately the results came up Fatigued driver was more apt to get in an accident. I dare say at any given moment there are more fatigued drivers on the road than drunk. Throw in the distracted drivers ,texting, reading, doing make-up. Its a wonder more people are not killed every year.
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    clyek Nov 30, 2010 5:36 PM
    What the hell are you worried about 'drowsy drivers' when there are a 1000 times that many talking stupidly and driving like erratic idiots on the road? Anyone driving and talking is 1000 time more of a hiway hazard,, period...
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    ttommytbird Nov 30, 2010 4:50 PM
    This is an attempt by convicted drunk drivers who, Have alot of money Feel entitled to self rightousness Do not feel they should be held accountable for their actions Want to argue that there are worst dangers than themselves Resolve their guilt issues and sift blame to others Nice try but WE, the silent ones(yea, you know who we are)KNOW and you can not hide behind smoke and mirrors anymore. But for all the wrong reasons, the message is correct ! Be careful and considerate if you drive !
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    adamantthe1st21 Nov 24, 2010 2:27 AM
    locksmiths , towing companies sub contracting for AAA work between 14 and 18 h/day. i know i am one of them. i almost had about 20 accidents in 6 years being too tired and driving. we do texting too with our laptop on the passenger side sit. for every job we go to we are timed so we have no choice but to speed .my experience is that you cant drive more than 10 hours or you risk an accident. resting for 1 or 2 hours is not the solution either. legislators tried to pass a bill so drivers working for a campany cant drive more than 10 hours but it was killed by Bush jr. profit over safety has spoken. AAA knows it but money is their first priority.if you have a membership with AAA you support slave labor without knowing it.
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    adamantthe1st21 Nov 24, 2010 2:10 AM
    hi
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    bbwsingz2praize Nov 24, 2010 12:28 AM
    My dear Mr. Sedgwick, how old are you if I may ask? I say this because drowsy drivers are most definitely not "new" as you claim they are. Drivers have been operating vehicles of different kinds for years now. Apparently you have never heard of that device, which, when a driver attaches it to his or her ear, it zaps them as soon one's head begins to drop to awaken them. I am almost 52 years of age and I have been knowing about this device, so please refrain from making the statement that drowsy drivers are new because they aren't. Oh, and by the way...yes, drowsy drivers can be more dangerous than drunk drivers...a incoherent driver is still incoherent be they sleepy or drunk. Thank you.
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    dumbneasy Nov 23, 2010 10:32 PM
    It may sound crude; but I'm very serious. When driving for long distances there are times you have to urinate. Your choices are simple - stop and do it right then or wait until you get to a gas station or other convenient location. For some reason, when you hold it in (in my case anyway) you get drowsy easier. My advice? Do your thing when as close to immmediately appropriate as possible and you will find the drowsiness also goes away. This from a guy who drove 380 miles back and forth a night, 5 days a week for a long time.
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    keanekaplan Nov 23, 2010 9:34 PM
    I was just doing a little research on this accident...I was there & witnessed it...But wanted to be sure of my memory...I noticed that the truck is a "Day Cab", accident occured at approx 1pm...So how the hell can this be related to "FATIGUED DRIVING"???? The dumb ass driver...who was to old to be driving in the first plcae was reading a damn book!!! NOTHING TO DO WITH DROWSY DRIVING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    keanekaplan Nov 23, 2010 8:57 PM
    I would also like to ad...This accident happend around 1o'clock in the afternoon!
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    keanekaplan Nov 23, 2010 8:52 PM
    This story is incorrect...I am a truck driver. I witnessed what had happened that sad day. The ford focus had side swiped nobody! There where no other vehicles involved. The ford focus lost control & crashed into the concrete barrier. This ford focus was in front of me. As traffice started slowing down & backing up, is when the semi truck ran over everyone & killed all those poor people! The truck driver was reading a book while driving!!! GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT!!!
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    rd1064 Nov 23, 2010 8:22 PM
    ONCE THIS MONTH THE GUY BEHIND ME AT A RED LIGHT KNOCKED ON MY WINDOW TO SEE IF I WAS OK,SHOCKINGLY I WAS A SLEEP.IN GEAR,FOOT ON BRAKE AND RIGHTR FOOT ON GAS,I COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEOME............31 YEARS AGO I FELL A SLEEP COMING BACK FROM HUNTING TRIP,I WAS VERY SLEEPY AND PULLED INTO A REST STOP,I SLEEP 2 HOURS WOKE UP AND NOTICED IF I HURRIED I COULD MAKE IT HOME IN TIME TO SURPRISE MY WIFE AND PICK HER UP FROM WORK AS I WASNT DO BACK FOR 24 HOURS,WHEN I TOOK OFF ON THE NEW YORK THRUWAY,I REALIZED I WAS STILL SLEEPY,I SHOULD HAVE ALLOWED TIME TO WAKE UP FULL,I OPENED A WINDOW IT WAS IN THE 20S,I LIT A SMOKE,AND PUT ON THE RADIO,3 MILES LATER I HAD CUT A POLE IN 1/2 AND WAS FACING THE WRONG WAY AND A TRACTOR TRAILER WAS DOING ALL HE COULD NOT TO KILL ME,I WAS LUCKY THE SMALL POLE I HIT CAME THRU THE WINDOW AND ACTUALLY WOKE ME,I PULLED OUT THE FENDERS AND WAS ABLE TO DRIVE ON,AT THE TOLL BOOTH I TOLD THEM I WAS CUT OFF AND THE GUY KEPT GOING,AFTER FILLING OUT A TOATLY MADE UP REPORT I MADE IT HOME....WELL AAIN THIS WEEK I ALMOST FELL A SLEEP AT A LIGHT,I AM NOW AFRAID TO DRIVE,AND DISTANCE REALLY DOESNT MATTER,THE TIME I FELL TO SLEEP AT THE LIGHT I WAS ONLY 6 MILES FROM HOME ON MY WAY TO DOCTORS......I CAN TELL YOU WHAT IT IS,I HAVENT BEEN ABLE TO SLEEP MORE THAN 4 HOURS,MY SLEEP IS TOTASLLY BROKEN UP,THIS HAPPENS ABOUT 4 TIMES A YEAR,SO FROM NOW ON I WONT DRIVE WHEN I HAVE THESE DAYS,,,BUT FOLKS MILLIONS OF US ARE STRESSED OUT,EVER SINCE bUSH TORE THIS COUNTRY TO PIECES AND HIS BUDDYS IN CONGRESS LIFE HAS BECOME VERY STRESSFUL,AND SO HOW DID WE HANDLE IT,WE PUT THEM BACK IN OFFICE.......IS IT ABOUT HEAlth care because micheal moores movie SICKO which bush and the mhealth copanys attracked and then attacked obama,well on MSNBC a top[ health company exe, adnitted everything MOORE WROTE ABOUT IS TRUE,,THEY LIED TO MAKE HIM LOOK LIKE A FOOL,THEY EVEN ADMITTED CANADA HAS A BETTER HEALTH CARE THAN US BY 300 P/C AND THE LIES ABOUT WAITS ETC WERE ALL; REPUBLICAN IDEAS,FOR THEIR BIG BUDDYS IN HEALTH CARE........ALL OF US OUT OF WORK,NO HEALTH CARE,TAKING AWAY SOCIAL SECURITY,CUTTING MEDI CAID AND CARE,REFUSING TO EXTEND UNEMPLOYMENT CHECKS BUT GRANTING THE MILLIONARE MORE TAX BREAKS,THERE WILL BE MANY MORE OF US FALLING A SLEEP DRIVING,TILL WE REALIZE THE USA IS IN A WAR,A CLASS WAR,THE REPUBLICANS FIGHT FOR THE RICH AND BIG BUSINESS AND POLLUTERS AND THE DEMOCRATS WHEN NOT TAKING BRIBES OR WHAT DO THEY CALL IT,DONATIONS LOLOLOL,JUST LIKE THE REPUBLICANS FIGHT FOR THR POOR AND WHAT USE TO BE CALLED THE MIDDLE CLASS.,NO WONDER WE CAN NOT SLEEP......ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
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    parkwayrv890 Nov 23, 2010 8:02 PM
    I Transport RVs (Anything from a small pop-up to a 45 ft. travel trailer/ 5th wheel and everything in between) to and from Auctions plus delivering sold RVs to customers all over the US and Canada for severel years now and I drive well over 150,000 miles a year I have never had a wreck that was my fault (and only involved in very few that I could not avoid) by stric;ly following these rules: Always driving the speed limit (never more than 5 moh. over) This might make other drivers mad because they have to go around you but it has saved me from more wrecks than anything. After all it is easier to come to a stop doing 65 mph than from 90 mph. After all if you are driving 25 miles to get wher you are going is it really worth risking your live to get ther 45 seconds sooner ? Aways stop every 2-3 hours to take a break and never drive more than 800 miles a day without getting 8 hours of solid sleep. If everybody would follow this rule you would not need to buy an energy drink to stay awake. Always buckle up and always, always use your turn signal for every lane change and turn no matter what. I see more wrecks caused from this than anything else . Using your signal lets other drivers know what your intensions are and they can plan accordingly . Do not use the cell phone while driving at all !! No texting or talking while driving . Keep your eyes and mind on the road . I don't care how good of a driver you think you are , You cannot drive and react to a situation at 100 % while using a cell phone. If you have to make an important call or text pull into a parking lot and make the call or text before getting back on the road !! I should not have to tell you these things people we all know this is true but we have gotten to lazy and in a hurry for no good reason to listen to common sense . All accidents are caused by people who at some point screwed up . There is no such thing as a "no-fault accident"
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    cfuji Nov 23, 2010 8:01 PM
    To planxan2: I would ask you since you think fines and other deterrents are infective what would you propose to reduce the needless deaths of innocent people at the hands of those who choose to eliminate them by their choice to be stupid? The woman who killed my son was senteced to 30 months in jail because she was 3 times the legal limit. To this day she still says it was his fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (He was on his way home from college to pick up his 1 year old son).
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    mdtomd Nov 23, 2010 7:50 PM
    The doctors at your hospital, interns and residents, work 24-36 hours a shift. They are all driving illegally at the end of their shift. If they are too sleepy to drive should they be working on you as a patient? Find out what your local hospitals policy is regarding its doctors and their work hours. If your hospital doesnt CLOSE all night there are doctors there. Doctors take turns going home at night. The ones that do stay worked all day, through the night, then still have the next days work. Students get through medical school then are told they MUST work those hours to get approved for a lisence. Legally doctors may NOT go on strike. I have to wonder how hospital administrators expect their young doctors to handle the new driving law. A possible answer would be to provide transportation. Stilll, if the doctor is too sleepy to drive, they are TOO sleepy to work on anyone. The hospital wont tell YOU that and will force the doctors to continue working.
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    dlitman6221 Nov 23, 2010 7:25 PM
    Take the Sleepy Heads , The Madd Mothers Distracted by a suv full of screaming offspring , The females preoccupied with mirror gazing and makeup applying ,mst of all the drivers distracted by anything to do with a cellphone...................an you will find the accidents caused by these things are ten time the amount caused by the simple drunk driver. but the drunk is our only villan because they are the only ones who have lingering evidence of their mindlessness.
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    myavanti Nov 23, 2010 7:16 PM
    I agree with this, here in Florida the state goverment makes the problem worse because they close many of the rest areas at night when they are needed the most. The also have signs posted prohibiting people from sleeping so what what is a person to do. The state government should build more rest areas on the public highways and not just on the interstates and they should be open 24/7 to promote public safety.
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