Drowsy driving, drunk driving are the same

"Driver falls asleep at wheel, crashes in Vancouver. VANCOUVER, Wash. - A car crashed and rolled over on its side on Highway 14 after the driver fell asleep at the wheel;"

“Driver falls asleep at wheel, crashes in Vancouver. VANCOUVER, Wash. – A car crashed and rolled over on its side on Highway 14 after the driver fell asleep at the wheel;”

“Police: Drowsy driver caused crash that killed 2. MARYSVILLE – The driver who caused the Jan. 2 crash that killed two people along Highway 9 near Marysville had fallen asleep at the wheel;”

“5 Dead after Driver Falls Asleep at the Wheel. WALLA WALLA – Washington State Troopers say five are dead after a driver falls asleep at the wheel on State Route 124;”

“Semi rolls over between Arlington and MOUNT VERNON – Washington State Patrol troopers said the driver of a FedEx truck that overturned on I-5 in Snohomish County Thursday morning likely fell asleep at the wheel;”

“Sleepy driver blamed for death of motorcyclist on Interstate 405. A motorcyclist died Sunday night in an accident on Interstate 405, caused by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel.”

These 2015 news headlines and many more came up from a simple Web search on drowsy driving in Washington State. They are grim reminders that our society is exhausted. Since the great recession, we are working longer hours just to keep a roof over our heads. More and more adults suffer from undiagnosed disorders like sleep apnea and acute insomnia. On our campuses, high school and college students pull ‘all nighters’ to study for tests or write papers and are always tired.

We are also a culture centered around the automobile. But lack of sleep and driving a car is a deadly combination. On Washington’s roads, there were at least 10 deaths and 77 serious injuries in 2013 that were directly linked to a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. According to the AAA Foundation, drowsy drivers are involved in an estimated 21 percent of all fatal crashes, up from 4.5 percent in 2010. Nationwide, drowsy drivers have caused 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year.

A reasonable person would never drive a car when drunk. But many people will drive when they are too tired. There is no difference between being drunk or tired when you are behind the wheel. A study by researchers in Australia showed that being awake for 18 hours produced an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours; .08 is considered legally drunk in Washington state.

We tend to ignore statistics of drowsy driving injuries and deaths. We think ‘That will never happen to me.’

Sadly, my daughter, Mora Shaw, was one of those stats. She and my family know firsthand the pain and suffering caused by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel of a car after being awake for over 20 hours. Nine years ago, Mora, then a 17-year-old Issaquah High graduate, was nearly killed as a result of driver who fell asleep while driving over Blewett Pass. Suffering serious multiple fractures and a two-week coma, Mora barely survived. She spent years in recovery.

Like drunk driving prevention 30 years ago, the only thing that will change mind-sets and habits about drivers getting behind the wheel of a car when they have not slept for 20-plus hours is swift and sure penalties. Every Washington driver, every legislator and every judge need to understand the seriousness of drowsy driving. Their attitudes and our laws about it need to change.

Drowsy driving kills, injures and shatters lives just the same as drunk driving. Ask the family and friends of those lost or injured this year. Just ask my daughter. Just ask me.

Governor Jay Inslee has proclaimed Nov. 1 to 8 as Washington State’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. During the busy holiday season, we urge all drivers to be aware of fatigue before getting behind the wheel of a car. Get some rest and save a life.

The Shaw family have made it their mission to educate the public on the all too often tragic consequences of driving while drowsy. In addition to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee’s 2015 Washington State Drowsy Driving Prevention and Awareness Week proclamation, the Shaw family have partnered with the Washington State Patrol, the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, AAA of Washington, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the King County Sheriffs’ Office in their efforts to promote drowsy driving awareness and prevention.

The statewide proclamation is in concert with the National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation’s: http://drowsydriving.org, or visit the AAA Foundation website, www.aaafoundation.org/drowsy-driving.

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