Report Finds Fatigued Driving to be Under-recognized, Underreported

A report by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) finds that motor vehicle crashes caused by drowsy driving continue to be under-recognized due to a lack of uniformity in crash reporting among states.

The first "State of the States Report on Drowsy Driving" concluded that while significant progress has been made on various fronts in the battle against drowsy driving, much remains to be accomplished.

The report also indicates that police officers are not receiving adequate training on the impact of fatigue on driving performance. Both the lack of uniform codes and proper training for law enforcement have created a situation where only very conservative statistics exist, according to the organization. NSF also found that many drivers licensing manuals contain false and misleading information about sleep and countermeasures to prevent sleep-related crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving causes at least 100,000 police-reported crashes and kills more than 1,550 Americans each year.

"NSF will use this report to work toward establishing standard language that states may use to code sleep-related crashes on police crash report forms and to address the impact of sleep loss in police training programs," said NSF Acting CEO Darrel Drobnich. "This will lead to more accurate statistics that will allow us to better recognize and better address this national tragedy."

The report consisted of a survey sent to traffic safety offices across the country and additional research by NSF. The report updates a similar survey conducted by NSF in 1998.

The vast majority of states responding to the 2007 survey indicated that they have the ability to charge a drowsy driver under existing laws. This was similar to the 1998 survey. However, the current report found that there continues to be wide variance in the types of charges that would be levied. Only New Jersey explicitly defines drowsy driving as recklessness under a vehicular homicide statute. Known as "Maggie's Law," New Jersey's drowsy driving law has served to raise awareness of the consequences of fatigue behind the wheel and has spurred significant action in other states. NSF officials said. There are now at least eight states with 12 pending bills that address fatigued driving in various ways.

However, Maggie's Law and many of the pending bills are not optimal due to their narrow focus, according to the organization. NSF plans to work with legislators in correcting this problem by releasing principles for model state legislation that take a comprehensive approach to addressing drowsy driving.

In order to address the lack of education about drowsy driving and its disproportionate impact on young people, NSF recently launched a Web site, www.DrowsyDriving.org, where people can find information about drowsy driving as well as an easy-to-use toolkit to help them spread the word about this issue. The site also features a drowsy driving memorials and testimonials site that tells the stories of those whose lives have been permanently affected by a drowsy driving crash and preserves the memory of those whose lives were lost.

The complete State of the States Report on Drowsy Driving is available at www.DrowsyDriving.org/stateofthestatesreport.

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