drowsy driving

Make sure you know the alarming facts about drowsy driving. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to illustrate the importance of an issue related to public safety.  This was definitely the case this weekend when actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and several members of his inner circle were involved in a motor vehicle accident believed to have been caused by a drowsy commercial truck driver.  One person, comic James McNair, a long time friend of Morgan’s was killed in the accident and several others, including Morgan were seriously injured.  This accident serves as a tragic reminder of the danger posed by drowsy driving.


Why We Have to Stop Skipping Sleep

Research has shown that when we are fatigued, our ability to perform several important operations required to drive safely becomes compromised.  It impacts our alertness, our decision making abilities, and our response time.  Simply put, when we are overtired, we are impaired to the point that we cannot operate a vehicle, whether it is an 18-wheeler or the family four-door, safely.

Despite the fact that our society continues to downplay the importance of sleep in general, research has proven that we don’t have to be up for more than 24 hours, which has been alleged about the driver that caused Morgan’s accident, to be impaired.  Driving after being awake for only 18 hours caused the same kind of impairment seen in someone whose blood alcohol level (BAC) was .05.  Now, that isn’t generally considered legally drunk or too impaired to drive, but anyone who has ever had a couple beers knows that you don’t need to be drunk to start reacting differently than you would if you were sober or, in this case, if you were well rested.

But, if you add another 6 hours of “awake time” so that you have been awake for 24 hours, that same research indicates you will be impaired similarly to someone whose BAC was .10, which is legally intoxicated in most states.    This fact alone highlights why we need to take drowsy driving more seriously as a society and why it is so critical that we put a higher priority on sleep.


Do We Need More Regulations?

In the days since Morgan’s accident, there has been much talk about whether or not we need to impose stricter regulations on commercial drivers in order to ensure they are getting adequate sleep to drive safely.  But we need to start by looking at the laws we already have so that we can make sure they are working.  Despite the fact that the driver of the truck in that accident had not slept in more than 24 hours, his employer, Wal-Mart, has indicated that his schedule of driving and rest was “within the federal hours of service regulations.”  This means that the laws we have right now make it possible for a commercial driver to be on the road when he has been awake long enough to impair as significantly as if he were drunk.

We wouldn’t stand for a truck driver to be behind the wheel when he was intoxicated, and we shouldn’t be allowing for the possibility that a driver is so overtired that he is as impaired as he would be if he was chugging beer instead of skipping sleep.