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States Asleep at the Wheel in Fighting Drowsy Driving

There's not enough outreach and prevention, new report finds

TUESDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Poor police training, a lack of educational materials, and meager data collection are hindering efforts to increase awareness about the dangers of drowsy driving in the United States and aggressively tackle the problem, a new report finds.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) released its findings Tuesday as part of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, Nov. 10-16.

"States across the nation seem to be trying to increase their efforts to combat drowsy driving, especially in the area of graduated licensing laws for young drivers," CEO David Cloud said in a sleep foundation news release. "However, due to a lack of awareness of the serious repercussions of drowsy driving and a lack of accurate reporting, state officials don't have the data they need to support increased efforts to aggressively address driver fatigue. Drivers, parents, educators, employers and government officials alike need to start taking drowsy driving more seriously."

In its State of the States Report on Drowsy Driving, the NSF rated all states and the District of Columbia based on responses to a series of questions about law enforcement, police training, data collection, educational programs, and graduated licensing laws for new drivers. Overall, Mississippi received the highest grade (B-), while most states received a "C."

Among the findings:

  • Only 13 states and the District of Columbia provide police training about the effects of fatigue on driving performance, while five other states provide limited or sporadic training on the issue.
  • Only one state, New Jersey, has a specific law for fatal crashes caused by drivers who fall asleep. However, all but two states (Iowa and Maine) said they have existing laws that enable them to charge a drowsy driver who causes a fatal crash.
  • Only 17 states require drowsy driving information to be included in driver education programs.
  • Information about drowsy driving is included in 43 states' driver's license manuals, but several states perpetuate myths about unproven drowsy driving countermeasures such as rolling down the window or turning up the radio volume.
  • Most states (45) and the District of Columbia have graduated licensing systems for young people that include a nighttime driving restriction. Seven states have nighttime driving restrictions starting at 10 p.m., as recommended by NSF and a number of traffic safety organizations.
  • There are at least nine states with 16 pending bills that target drowsy driving in various ways.

While some states are taking action to get drowsy drivers off the road, many Americans still don't understand the serious impact sleepiness has on driving performance, the NSF said. In fact, the foundation's 2008 Sleep in America Poll found that almost a third of working Americans reported driving drowsy at least once in the previous month.

The NSF's annual Drowsy Driving Prevention Week is designed to boost public awareness and increase advocacy around the issue. This year's campaign focuses on special at-risk groups such as young drivers, working adults, commercial drivers and people with untreated sleep disorders. The NSF is a national, nonprofit organization.

More information

Here's where you can find out more about Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: National Sleep Foundation, news release, Nov. 11, 2008

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