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NHTSA To Devote More Resources to Curbing Drowsy Driving

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A sign in Utah discouraging drowsy driving

A sign in Utah discouraging drowsy driving

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Mark Rosekind, speaking Monday at a safety conference in Chicago, says that the agency intends to place more emphasis on curbing drowsy driving around the United States.

Though drowsy driving is not granted nearly as much attention as drunk or distracted driving, a 2011 NHTSA report showed that being drowsy was a contributing factor to between 2.2-2.6% of all fatal crashes between 2005 and 2009. That shakes out to about 1,000 deaths a year in addition to an estimated 72,000 accidents resulting in injury or property damage.

“While not everybody drinks or texts or speeds, lack of sleep is a problem we all face. And falling asleep at the wheel at 70 mph is a recipe for tragedy,” Rosekind said.

One of the biggest roadblocks to cracking down on drowsy driving is an inability to quantify fatigue. Rosekind says that NHTSA is working to develop strategies that will specifically target drivers more susceptible to driving drowsy, and that it will more thoroughly investigate the role of driver aids—both current and in-development.

“We don’t have a fatigue-alyzer,” Rosekind said. “You’ve got a Breathalyzer so you know if they’re drunk. In fact, I’ve met police officers and I remember this one story. An officer saw some guy driving who was going 10 mph in the fast lane. He pulls him over; it ends up no alcohol. ‘Oh, he was just tired so I let him go,’ the officer said. Wait a minute, he was going 10 mph in the fast lane. What’s wrong with this picture?”