The danger of drowsy driving

You know the feeling. Driving along I-75, heading out of Macon to Florida, down I-16 Savannah, or even going home after a long day at work following a late night with too little sleep. Your eyelids feel heavy and you catch your head dropping. No, you didn't just nod off, just a little tired, that's all.

But you did. You just experienced drowsy driving. While much less recognized than its more famous relative drunken driving, but it is still a killer. In the last decade ending in 2010, 11,000 people died in drowsy driving car accidents. The larger question is how to deal with this problem.

Unlike other causes of accidents, drunk driving, illegal or prescription drugs or cellphone use, there is no easy test that can be used to obtain some evidence of how sleepy someone was at the time of an accident.

Even the number of deaths may be underreported, as it may not be obvious that a person was driving drowsy. If they were injured or killed, it may be impossible to determine their alertness when they crashed.

What should be done is equally problematic. Legislating against is difficult, because even if an accident occurs if may be very difficult to prove in a court that a driver was too drowsy to drive. This means that prosecutors would be unlikely to file charges, as they would win few cases.

Education and public awareness may provide some help, but eventually, technology may prove the most likely to some solution to this problem. It may be possible to create systems that warn drivers when they are falling asleep and collision avoidance systems could prevent some types of crashes.

Source: The Associated Press, "Drowsy driving remains an elusive highway dilemma", Frank Eltman, May 11, 2013

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