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Family's mission warns about the dangers of drowsy driving
Getting behind the wheel while tired or sleepy is not a crime like driving drunk. But it can be just as dangerous, and just as deadly.
In 2010, sleepy drivers killed sixteen people and seriously injured 60 more in Washington State. Nationwide, drowsy drivers cause 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year.
Drowsy Driving Prevention Week is Nov. 11-17 in the state,
A local family knows firsthand the pain and suffering caused by a drowsy driver.
Issaquah resident Mora Haggerty Shaw was nearly killed as a result of an early-morning, single-car accident caused by a drowsy driver in July 2006. Shaw, a passenger in a car driven by a friend who had had little sleep in the hours leading up to the accident, suffered multiple fractures and a traumatic brain injury. Shaw was in a coma for two weeks and has spent years in recovery.
As a result, Mora and her parents, William Shaw and Mary Beth Haggerty-Shaw, also of Issaquah, have made it their mission to educate the public on the all too often tragic consequences of driving while drowsy. In 2010 the Shaws testified before the Washington state House Judiciary Committee to encourage it to consider stiffer penalties for drowsy drivers who caused accidents and injuries.
Experts say that after 24 hours without sleep, a driver is as impaired as if he or she were over the legal limit for alcohol.
Young drivers, aged 16-24, are the most likely group to be involved in a drowsy driving accident. Men have twice as many drowsy driving crashes as women.
Yet, anyone can find themselves driving while drowsy. More than one-third of all drivers report having fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point in their lives; more than 10 percent report having fallen asleep behind the wheel in just the past year.
Besides the obvious advice to get enough sleep, what can you do to keep yourself awake if you have to be on the road:
• Bank it up: If you know you are going on a big road trip or driving at night-before you hit the road, get more than enough sleep (seven to nine hours) before hand.
• Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination: Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekend by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It's better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
• Use the buddy system: Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
• Take a break every 100 miles or two hours: Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.
• Take a nap: Find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
• Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
• Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
• Consume caffeine: The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
• Don’t rely on stimuli from the radio and/or having the AC turned up or an open window to keep you awake.
Certain physical symptoms should alert a driver to get off the road because of his or her fatigue level. These include: constant yawning, trouble focusing visually, drifting out of your lane, suddenly realizing that you can't remember the last stretch of road traveled, or actually falling asleep and waking up after having continued to steer the car down the road.
Shaw and her family urge all drivers to be aware of their level of alertness or fatigue before they get behind the wheel — this week, during the upcoming busy holiday season and throughout the year.