Drowsy driving is an important, but often unrecognized, traffic safety problem. NHTSA estimates that drowsiness contributes to more than 100,000 collisions each year, resulting in over 1,500
deaths and 40,000 injuries. Drowsiness increases the impairment caused by alcohol. Teenagers, professional drivers (including truck drivers), military personnel on leave, and shift workers are at particular risk.
NHTSA, in conjunction with the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, has created a program to help employers, Safe Communities coalitions, and other safety advocates address this problem. The first phase of the program, Preventing Drowsy Driving Among Shift Workers, includes an employer's guide providing all the information necessary to plan and implement a workplace program to alert shift workers to the dangers of drowsy driving and improve their sleeping habits, six 15-minute PowerPoint training sessions, a video, brochures, posters, and a sleep tip card. Materials targeting college students
and military personnel are under development. Materials can be downloaded or ordered from the NHTSA website, or ordered by telephone at (888) 327-4236.
An important opportunity for Safe Communities programs to raise public awareness of drowsy driving is National Sleep Awareness Week (NSAW), which this year takes place March 26-April 1, 2001. NSAW, which is sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation and, this year, co-sponsored by NHTSA, is designed to raise awareness about the
importance of regular sleep and the need to address sleep disorders. A tool kit is available for community organizations that would like to become involved in these activities. The National Sleep Foundation can alsp provide programs with a wealth of other materials on drowsy driving, sleep, and sleep disorders, including a PowerPoint presentation on the dangers of drowsy driving, and a public education brochure on drowsy driving, entitles Wake Up!
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Each year, drowsy driving claims more than 1,500 lives and cause at least 100,000 crashes in the United States. In order to educate the public about sleep disorders that cause car crashes and other problems, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has created National Sleep Awareness Week, an event that takes place during March.
More than 70 untreated sleep disorders affect over 40 million Americans and contribute to crashes, accidents, impaired work productivity and academic performance, reduced quality of life, poor health, and sometimes deaths and injuries.
NSF cautions that sleep disorders can lead to dangerous situations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that vehicle crashes due to driver fatigue cost Americans $12.5 billion each year in fatalities, injuries, reduced productivity, and property loss.
NSF issued the following recommendations to make traveling safer for drivers:
- For maximum alertness, get enough sleep before your trip. Take a mid-afternoon break, and avoid driving between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
- Take a passenger to keep you talking, watch for signs of sleepiness, and share the driving.
- Schedule a break every two hours or 100 miles to take a quick nap or get some exercise.
- Consume a caffeinated drink or food to boost your short-term alertness.
For more information on sleep, contact NSF, (888) FYI-SLEEP; www.sleepfoundation.org.
From Highway & Vehicle/Safety Report, Volume 26, Number 4
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NTSB 'Most Wanted' List Includes Recording Devices, Fighting Fatigue
The National Transportation Safety Board has released it 10 Most Wanted list for 1999, which highlights the 10 most critical safety improvements sought by the safety board.
For the coming year, NTSB chose the following areas for improvement: automatic information recording devices, highway vehicle occupant safety, human fatigue in transportation operations, child/youth safety in transportation, airport runway incursion, airframe structural icing, recreational boating safety, positive train separation, excavation damage prevention to underground facilities, and explosive mixtures in fuel tanks on transport category aircraft.
In one recommendation, the safety board is urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop and implement, in conjunction with automobile manufacturers, a plan to better gather information on crash pulses and other crash parameters in actual crashes, utilizing current or augmented crash-sensing and recording devices.
NTSB requests that the American Trucking Associations, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Motor Freight Carrier Association, Independent Truckers and Drivers Association, National Private Truck Council, and Owner-Operators Independent Drivers advise members to equip commercial vehicle fleets with automated and tamperproof onboard recording devices to identify information concerning both driver and vehicle operating characteristics.
In another highway recommendation, NTSB is asking the states to:
- review drinking age laws to see if they prohibit those under age 21 from purchasing, possessing, or consuming alcohol, and prohibit the sale of alcohol to persons under the age 21; enact laws to include these provisions and eliminate deficiencies.
- vigorously enforce youth drinking and driving laws to increase the percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers who are arrested.
- vigorously enforce minimum drinking age laws by taking driver license action against underage purchasers and vendor license action against those who sell to persons under age 21.
- enact laws for a provisional license system.
- enact laws that prohibit the young from driving during certain times, especially midnight to 5 a.m.
NTSB is also asking the states, territories, and District of Columbia to establish multiple, permanent locations where child restraints can be properly installed and parents/caregivers can get assistance. NHTSA is requested to develop incentive grants to assist in funding the fitting situations, and automobile manufacturers and child restraint manufacturers are being asked to support establishment of the stations.
Operator Fatigue, Air Bags, Safety Belts
NTSB also recommends studying and updating fatigue in the transportation industry (H&V/SR, May 24, 1999). The Department of Transportation is asked to develop and disseminate educational material on shift work; work and rest schedules; and proper regimens of health, diet, and rest. DOT is also asked to require its modal administrations to modify the Code of Federal Regulations to set scientifically based hours-of-service regulations.
The Federal Highway Administration is requested to revise regulations to require sufficient rest so drivers get at least eight continuous hours of sleep after driving 10 hours or being on duty for 15 hours. NTSB would also like FHWA to eliminate the regulation that allows drivers with sleeper berth equipment to cumulate eight hours of off-duty time in two separate periods.
This document was last updated on June 21, 1999.
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Sleep, AAA Foundations Offer Sound Advice for Drowsy Drivers
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety are advising drivers to get enough sleep before attempting long drives, especially during the holiday season. Often shopping, parties, traveling, and year-end business and semester workloads mean less sleep, according to Richard Gelula, NSF's executive director.
Alcohol also increases the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. "When you're very tired, one drink feels like four or five," said David Willis, president of the AAA Foundation.
Sleep experts recommend eight or more hours of sleep each night to function properly. However, most Americans get less than seven hours, according to an NSF survey. Other survey results reveal that younger drivers, aged 18 to 29, were more likely to drive drowsy than other age groups. Nearly 25 percent reported falling asleep at the wheel during the past year. And younger drivers were more likely to drive faster when they felt drowsy.
People who hold more than one job, get six hours or less of sleep, or drive between midnight and 6 a.m. are more likely to have a drowsy driving crash, Willis noted. "Other studies show that sleep-deprived drivers have reactions like those of people who have been drinking alcohol," he added.
NSF and the AAA Foundation offer this advice for driving, especially during the holidays:
- get at least eight hours of sleep before a trip
- on long trips, take a passenger who stays awake to talk to the driver
- schedule regular stops every 100 miles or two hours
- avoid alcohol and medications that may impair performance
- recognize signs of fatigue: drifting from your lane, hitting rumble strips, repeated yawning, difficulty focusing, tailgating, or missing road signs
Turning up the radio or rolling down the window does not keep a driver awake, stressed Willis. "The only cure for drowsiness is sleep," he said. Taking a "power nap" can restore alertness.
For more information, visit the NSF website, www.sleepfoundation.org, or the AAA Foundation website, www.aaafoundation.org.
This document was last updated on February 25, 2001.
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Sleep-Deprived Med Students are More At Risk
Sleep-deprived med students are more at risk of being in auto crashes, suffering depression, and giving birth to premature infants. A petition recently filed by Public Citizen with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wants the government to limit the number of hours worked by medical residents and fellows.
Emergency medical residents are almost seven times more likely to be in an auto crash during their residencies compared to before their residencies.
American medical residents regularly work 95 hours a week, sometimes as many as 136 out of the available 168. The petition seeks a work-hour cap of 80 hours per week, with shifts not to exceed 24 hours. The petition also notes that the government has set strict work-hour limits for truck drivers, pilots, and railroad operators.
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Solutions Needed to Combat Drowsy Driving, Urges NSF
A new National Sleep Foundation (NSF) survey reports that 50 percent of all American adults
admitted to drowsy driving in the past year, and one in five actually fell asleep. NSF is now calling for a national consensus to implement solutions.
"Safety experts express concern that despite successful efforts to get most Americans to buckle up, major reductions in drunk driving, and significant safety advances to vehicles themselves, that we
continue to have so many deaths and injuries," said NSF executive director Richard Gelula. "This missing part of the puzzle is too many drowsy drivers."
Drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 vehicle crashes, 40,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities each year, according to the National High- way Traffic Safety Administration.
The latest Sleep in America poll shows that:
- drowsy driving is more prevalent among males than females (59 percent vs. 47 percent), especially males aged 18-29
- adults with children living at home reported driving drowsy more often (60 percent) than those without (48 percent)
- 80 percent agreed that information about drowsy driving should be included in driver's license
testing and drowsy drivers should be penalized if caught
- about 25 percent said they drove drowsy to or from work at least a few days a month; 4 percent said they drove to work drowsy almost every day (shift workers are even more likely to drive drowsy at 36 percent)
"The highway safety community knows that this is an unrecognized crisis," Gelula explained. "We must focus attention on preventing drivers from get- ting behind the wheel when they are
impaired by lack of sleep."
Drowsiness is the most difficult for police and crash investigators to detect and quantify, unlike factors such as speeding and alcohol use. NSF will
work with police and others to change that.
"Talk to police officers, and they will tell you that often the only logical explanation for some crashes is that the driver fell asleep at the wheel. But it seldom becomes an official cause in the crash report," Gelula commented. "Absent hard accident data, nothing is being done nationally to address what we all know to be an issue."
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