Ever had your eyelids begin to drop while you're at the wheel? Or catch your vehicle drifting to the side of the road while you yawn? Bill Shaw has a message for you: Pull over.
Shaw's 17-year-old daughter nearly died in a 2006 crash caused by a driver who fell asleep on Blewett Pass. The crash turned the Issaquah father into an activist. He doesn't want anyone else to suffer like his family has – or, even worse, to lose someone to drowsy driving. He'll be sharing his family's story again this week as part of Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week.
When Shaw first arrived at the emergency room, his daughter was so badly injured that doctors told him to start planning for her funeral. Mora Shaw spent two weeks in a coma, but survived in what her family describes as a miracle – and more than a year of painful recovery. The Shaw family feels incredibly blessed she lived, but Shaw says seeing the results of drowsy driving first-hand just makes the national statistics even more upsetting.
|This 2014 Christmas photo of the Shaw family almost wasn’t possible after daughter Mora, center, was nearly killed in a drowsy driving crash. The Shaws now work to raise awareness of drowsy driving dangers.|
Nationally, the National Sleep Foundation's droswsydriving.org website says one in 10 drivers has fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year and that one out of every six deadly traffic crashes is caused by drowsy driving. In Washington, 16 people were killed in drowsy driving crashes in 2014, up sharply from 10 such deaths in 2013. The Washington State Traffic Safety Commission already has logged eight drowsy driving deaths in just the first two quarters of 2015.
We're an exhausted nation, Shaw says. We work too hard and get too little sleep – and then we try to concentrate on driving. Add in disorders like sleep apnea, and the situation only gets more dire.
According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in such a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more. People sleeping less than 5 hours increased their crash risk four to five times.
Most people don't think about it, but "driving while drowsy" is also just as dangerous as driving drunk. According to studies in Australia, staying up 18 hours leaves you just as impaired as if you had a .05 blood alcohol level, and that increases to .10 after 24 hours. In Washington, .08 is considered legally drunk.
Not sure if you're "driving while drowsy?" Drowsydriving.org lists these signs that indicate you should pull over and rest:
- Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
- Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
- Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
How do you prevent drowsy driving? Here are some tips from the Washington State Patrol:
- Get a good night's sleep before hitting the highway.
- Don't be in a hurry to arrive to your destination.
- Take a break every two hours or 100 miles to help get refreshed.
- Use the buddy system to keep you awake and share driving duties.
- Avoid alcohol and medication that may cause drowsiness or have side effects.
If you become fatigued after you're already on the road, drowsydriving.org recommends finding a safe place to stop and taking a 15-20 minute nap. That's enough to leave you refreshed without feeling groggy, the advocacy group says.
Today, 27-year-old Mora Shaw has graduated college and is pursuing a paralegal certificate. She still has pain and will eventually need more corrective surgery. As for her father, he's going to keep speaking out until everyone realizes how drowsy driving can shatter lives far beyond just the driver.
So, the next time you're about to get behind the wheel while feeling tired, remember the Shaws. Pull over, get some rest and keep yourself – and everyone else on the roads – safe.
For more information on drowsy driving and how to prevent it, visit DrowsyDriving.org, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.