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Drowsy & distracted driving prompt calls to action, enforcement campaigns

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As a number of initiatives are underway to discourage distracted driving, a new report highlights drowsy driving as another risky behavior requiring intervention.

The National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) 2023 Drowsy Driving Survey, released this month, found that 1 in 6 teens reported operating a car while feeling tired. If survey results were scaled to represent the nation’s entire teenage population, it would mean 1.7 million teens have struggled to keep their eyes open while driving, NSF’s report said.

In the survey of 1,224 teenagers and 1,349 adults, who were randomly sampled in mid-September, the majority of those who drove drowsy said school or work obligations prevented them from being well-rested. Among adults, the situation was even worse, with 60% of respondents admitting to feeling sleepy at the wheel.

While nearly all of those surveyed agreed that driving while drowsy is risky, neither the adults nor teens felt it was more dangerous than drunk, drugged, or distracted driving, the report found.

However, NSF said the perception that drowsy driving is not as problematic as other bad habits isn’t necessarily rooted in truth.

“The estimated impact of drowsy driving is similar to the estimated impact of other well-known causes of impaired driving, including drunk driving,” it said in its report. “As such, it’s no surprise that drowsy driving is often called the ‘fourth D.'”

According to the AAA Foundation, sleepiness is attributed to more than one-fifth of all deadly vehicle crashes in the U.S. and 13% of accidents leading to hospitalizations. It said upward of 6,400 people are killed in U.S. crashes each year related to drowsy driving.

AAA’s March study found that:

    • “When drivers rated their level of drowsiness as low, 75% of them were, in fact, moderately or severely drowsy;
    • Even when drivers’ eyes were closed for 15 seconds or longer over a one-minute window — indicative of severe drowsiness — 1 in 4 still rated their drowsiness as low;
    • “Drivers very rarely took breaks unless they perceived that they were very drowsy; and
    • “Even when drivers recognized they were extremely drowsy, they still declined 75% of their opportunities to take breaks and kept driving.”

When releasing the results of its survey, NSF said legislative changes could help reduce the frequency of drowsy driving through educational campaigns and deterrents. 

“Given the preventable nature of drowsy driving and its potentially tragic consequences and impact on public health, meaningful efforts to educate teens and adults about healthy sleep and the risk of drowsy driving is needed, along with other interventions that range from adoption of driver assistance technologies in vehicles to policy change and enforcement,” it said.

A number of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) include driver attention features that ensure drivers are alert and keep their eyes on the road while operating a vehicle. 

For instance, Ford’s BlueCruise system sounds alerts if it detects a driver’s eyes have been away from the road for approximately five seconds. If the driver does not respond, BlueCruise slows the vehicle down to 6 miles per hour, according to Consumer Report’s Active Driving Assistance Evaluation Report.

The same report said that Mercedes-Benz’s Driver Assistance and General Motors (GM)s’ Super Cruise will bring the car to a full stop and initiate an emergency call if an inattentive driver doesn’t respond to requests to reengage.

Meanwhile, a number of other initiatives are underway to discourage distracted driving. The “Save a Life Tour” is making its rounds to U.S. schools to educate teens about the importance of remaining alert on the road through workshops and simulations.

Separately, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and GM announced that they were advancing their joint efforts to end distracted driving through two new grants issued in Washington D.C. and Washington State. 

Each state will receive $87,500 to create, implement, and evaluate initiatives focused on eliminating drunk driving, GHSA said.

“Distraction is a ‘dirty little secret’ that few drivers want to talk about,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA’s chief executive officer. “Distracted drivers kill people every day, yet surveys show most drivers think others are the problem, not themselves. We need creative solutions and new ways of thinking to meaningfully shift public opinion on this deadly behavior.”


Featured image courtesy of Paolo Cordoni/iStock

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