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Posted on Jan 12, 2017

Column: Drowsy-driving related fatalities continue to rise in Washington

The decision to get behind the wheel when you are tired or have not had enough sleep can have a devastating cost to everyone involved.
Mora Shaw, who grew up in Issaquah, was 17 years old when she was seriously injured when the driver of the vehicle she was riding in fell asleep and crashed as they drove home from Eastern Washington. Shaw and her family are still living with the severe physical and emotional costs 10 years after the crash that almost killed her.
New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Acute Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash Involvement,” reveals that drivers missing two to three hours of sleep in a 24-hour period more than quadrupled their risk of a crash compared to drivers getting the recommended seven hours of sleep.
This is the same crash risk the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration associates with driving over the legal limit for alcohol.
With drowsy driving involved in more than 1 in 5 fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year, AAA warns drivers that getting less than seven hours of sleep may have deadly consequences.
“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”
Fatalities related to drowsy driving increased from 13 in 2011 to 19 in 2015 in Washington state. In total, from 2011 through 2015 there were 71 fatalities and 390 serious injuries from collisions involving a drowsy driver.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended seven hours daily. The AAA Foundation report found that in a 24-hour period, crash risk for sleep-deprived drivers increased steadily when compared to drivers who slept the recommended seven hours or more:
• Six to seven hours of sleep: 1.3 times the crash risk
• Five to six hours of sleep: 1.9 times the crash risk
• Four to five hours of sleep: 4.3 times the crash risk
• Less than four hours of sleep: 11.5 times the crash risk

While 97 percent of drivers told the AAA Foundation they view drowsy driving as a completely unacceptable behavior that is a serious threat to their safety, nearly 1 in 3 admit that at least once in the past month they drove when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.
Symptoms of drowsy driving can include having trouble keeping eyes open, drifting from lanes or not remembering the last few miles driven. However, more than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel.
AAA urges drivers to not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs of fatigue and should instead prioritize getting plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) in their daily schedules. For longer trips, drivers should also:
• Travel at times when normally awake
• Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
• Avoid heavy foods
• Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
• Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

The AAA Foundation report is based on the analysis of a representative sample of 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes. All data is from the NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, which comprised a representative sample of police-reported crashes that involved at least one vehicle that was towed from the scene and resulted in emergency medical services being dispatched to the scene.
Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, publicly supported charitable educational and research organization. Visit for more information on this and other research.
AAA Washington has been serving members and the traveling public since 1904. The organization provides a variety of exclusive benefits, including roadside assistance, discounts, maps and personalized trip planning, to its 1,119,000 members.