Thursday, November 8, 2018

Issaquah family shares story to raise awareness about the dangers of driving while fatigued

By Barbara LaBoe

Bill Shaw's family knows the dangers of drowsy driving all too well.

Getting behind the wheel when tired or struggling to stay awake is deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates it kills 1,550 people each year. In Washington, we average 13 fatalities a year from drowsy driving crashes, including 7 in 2017 and 15 in 2016. In the past decade, drowsy driving was a factor in 754 crashes in the state, according to the Washington State Patrol. And, because there is no test for fatigue, such as Breathalyzers for drunk driving, the National Sleep Foundation warns the actual numbers are likely much higher.
In 2006, Bill's daughter Mora almost became one of those fatality statistics. Mora, then 17, was riding with a friend who fell asleep at the wheel while crossing Blewett Pass. The driver had been up for almost 24 hours before the trip, though Mora didn't know that when accepting the ride.
The damage to the passenger side of the vehicle Mora Haggerty Shaw was traveling in when the driver fell asleep is shown in this photo. It took emergency crews more than half an hour to extricate her from the vehicle.

The damage on Mora's side of the vehicle was severe – pictures of the mangled car are hard to look at -- and only the quick thinking of a passing nurse got Mora to the hospital alive. (The others involved had minor injuries). At the hospital, with Mora in a coma, the Shaws were told to start planning for their daughter's funeral. Bill recently recalled mentally preparing himself to lay flowers on his daughter's grave.

Thankfully, Mora repeatedly beat the odds through years of surgeries, physical therapy and pain. And this summer, instead of a gravesite, the flowers were in her wedding bouquet as she walked down the aisle.
After years of recovery the Shaw family celebrated Mora's wedding this summer. Pictured (from left to right): Liam Shaw, Robert Winstanley (groom), Mora Haggerty Shaw Winstanley, William Shaw, Mary Beth Haggerty-Shaw.

It was an especially happy day after all the Issaquah-based family had been through, but the Shaws also point out that Mora still struggles with daily pain and early-onset arthritis. She will need several additional surgeries throughout her life. All of that pain could have been prevented, the family points out, if people better understood just how dangerous it is to drive while tired. They share their story throughout the year but especially during the governor-proclaimed state Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week taking place this week.

The American Automobile Association estimates that one out of every six (16.5 percent) deadly traffic collisions and one out of eight (12.5 percent) crashes requiring hospitalization of car drivers or passengers is due to drowsy driving.

According to studies in Australia, staying up 18 or 24 hours can leave you as impaired as driving drunk. And even a few hours of missed sleep can dull reactions behind the wheel. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more. People sleeping less than five hours increased their crash risk four to five times.

That's what the Shaws want others to know: That getting behind the wheel without enough sleep puts everyone at risk. If they save even one person's life by sharing their story, Bill said, their efforts will have been worth it.

Here are some tips to avoid and recognize drowsy driving.

When planning a trip:

  • Get adequate sleep — most adults need 7-9 hours to maintain proper alertness during the day.
  • Schedule proper breaks — about every 100 miles or 2 hours during long trips.
  • Travel with a buddy — someone to talk with and share the driving.
  • Avoid alcohol and sedating medications — check your labels or ask your doctor.

If driving, here are some warning signs to 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
  • Feeling restless and irritable