Opinion

It's time for action on drowsy driving

One month ago, Robert Goodwin and Sean and Michelle Lindsey were living out their lives just like the rest of us. Sadly, their precious lives were cut short by sudden and senseless tragedies.

Goodwin was the passenger in a Mazda minivan traveling east on Interstate 90 near Moses Lake. According to reports by the Washington State Patrol, the driver fell asleep at the wheel. The minivan left the road, and when the driver awoke, she overcorrected, sending the vehicle into the eastbound lanes and crashing through a fence. Goodwin, of Silverdale, died at the scene.

Three weeks ago, yet another terrible drowsy driving accident killed Sean and Michelle Lindsey of Tacoma. The two young parents’ Dodge Neon was full of family and friends, all returning from a weekend camping trip. With Sean at the wheel, they left early to beat the traffic. On I-90 at North Bend, Sean fell asleep while driving. The westbound vehicle drifted off the left shoulder and hit a concrete bridge abutment. Investigators said the impact of the crash was ferocious, crushing the driver’s side of the car, and killing Sean. His wife, Michelle, was also killed. She was in the seat behind the driver, tending to their 4-year-old son Cameron. Two other passengers were critically injured.

The North Bend accident chillingly echoes the drowsy driving accident that nearly took my daughter Mora Shaw’s life. Mora and some high school friends were making the 200-mile trip home to Issaquah from a vacation in Eastern Washington when the driver fell asleep at the wheel just below Blewett Pass. Her Nissan Pathfinder hurled along at more than 60 miles an hour into nearby trees‚ crushing the front and right side of the vehicle on impact. Mora suffered terrible injuries and was near death, in a coma for two weeks.

As the fourth anniversary of that terrible July 18 drowsy driving crash approaches, Mora continues to deal with her many life-long injuries and disabilities. Undaunted, she is reclaiming her amazing life with a positive spirit.

It is so sad that all this loss, all this pain, is so easily preventable — by drivers simply not getting behind the wheel of a vehicle when they are tired or fatigued.

If you drive on Washington roads and highways this summer, you will see warning signs about the dangers of drunk driving and about driving with no seatbelts. The Washington State Patrol will give you a ticket for driving while talking or texting on a cell phone. On these public safety issues, Washington has progressive attitudes, definite legislation and strict enforcement.

Last October, my wife Mary Beth and I testified in front of the State House Judiciary Committee, urging them to take action toward drowsy driving legislation — or consider amending the current reckless driving laws to give teeth to penalties if there is serious injury or death. State officials later told my wife Mary Beth and I and ‘it is just too hard to prove,’ and that there were evidentiary concerns. We were told the state has bigger problems, like our deep fiscal crisis.

After these three sad deaths nine months later, we ask again: How many more people will be killed or seriously injured before drivers stop getting behind the wheel of a car, knowing they are too tired to safely operate it?

I urge our legislators to take action on this issue, instead of bickering over partisan politics. In some cases, drowsy driving may be harder to prove than drunk driving, but drowsy driving kills, injures and shatters lives just the same. Just ask the survivors — the family and friends of those lost or injured last month. Just ask my daughter.

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