Federal regulations require drivers of large commercial trucks, including tractor trailers, to get a certain amount of sleep between shifts, to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel and causing serious truck accidents. No one wants to think that the 18-wheeler roaring up behind them on the Baltimore Beltway might be piloted by a driver who is about to fall asleep.
But what about all the other motorists with whom we share Maryland’s back roads and highways?
A new study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals something alarming: 1 in 24 drivers admit to driving drowsy, including actually nodding off behind the wheel. ABC News reports that “…based on a survey of nearly 150,000 drivers in 19 states and D.C. … sleepiness aggravated by shift work and snoring can be as risky as alcohol, slowing reaction times and impairing decision-making behind the wheel.”
(Note: “Shift work” refers to jobs that demand workers change normal sleep patterns, such as security guards, factory workers, and others who work overnight or late night shifts. Snoring has also been found to inhibit a good night’s sleep, which could contribute to the problem of drowsy driving.)
As Baltimore auto accident injury lawyers, we’ve seen what can happen when a drunk or impaired driver looses control of their vehicle. Maryland was one of the states polled in the CDC study – and 4 percent of Md. survey respondents admitted to drowsy driving. That’s worse than our neighbors in Washington, DC, where 2 percent of those surveyed said they drove in a sleep deprived mode.
ABC News reports that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a full 2 percent of motor vehicle accidents in the US involve drowsy driving. What’s more, a separate study revealed drivers may suffer from a condition known as “microsleep” – falling asleep behind the wheel for seconds at a time, possibly multiple times while driving.
Public health and traffic safety advocates fear that drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving. Liberty Mutual Research Institute estimates that a quarter million US drivers drive drowsy every day. New estimates reveal that drowsy driving is the second leading cause of fatal motor vehicle crashes, second only to drunk driving. NHTSA estimates more than 6,000 people are killed every year due to drowsy drivers.
While we can’t control the behaviors of others behind the wheel, Maryland motorists can do a few things to stay safe on the road:
> Plan long trips in advance and build in rest time. Avoid “driving all night” to “make good time.” A rest break could save your life and those of other innocent motorists around you.
> If you have miles to go before you sleep, consider putting them off and sleeping instead.
> Report any drivers you observe swerving into other lanes or otherwise driving erratically to Maryland police by dialing dial #77 for non-emergency situations and 911 for true emergencies.
> The saying “Friends don’t let friends drink and drive” can be adapted and applied here. “Friends don’t let friends drive drowsy.”
Wake up Maryland drivers! Awareness can go a long way to addressing this public health and traffic safety concern in Maryland and around the US.
Related Maryland Injury Attorney Article:
Working Overtime : Drowsy Driving a Serious Risk for Truckers and Other Maryland Motorists (Nov. 2011)
1 in 24 in US Drives Drowsy, CDC Says
ABC News Jan. 5, 2013
‘In the Blink of an Eye’: Dozing While Driving
ABC News Jan. 3, 2013
Drowsy Driving – 19 States and the District of Columbia, 2009–2010
CDC Weekly January 4, 2013 / 61(51);1033-1037