November 6, 2007

U.S. National Sleep Foundation finds drowsy driving to be under-recognized and underreported

Washington, D.C. – A new report by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) confirms that motor vehicle crashes caused by drowsy driving continue to be under-recognized due to a lack of uniformity in crash reporting among U.S. states. The report says that while significant progress has been made in battling drowsy driving, much remains to be accomplished.

The report also indicates that police officers are not receiving adequate training on the effect of fatigue on driving performance, and both the lack of uniform codes and proper law enforcement training have created a situation where only very conservative statistics exist. NSF also found that many drivers licensing manuals contain false or misleading information about sleep and countermeasures to prevent sleep-related crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving causes at least 100,000 police-reported crashes and kills more than 1,550 Americans each year.

“NSF will use this report to work toward establishing standard language that states may use to code sleep-related crashes on police crash report forms and to address the impact of sleep loss in police training programs,” said Darrel Drobnich, NSF Acting CEO. “This will lead to more accurate statistics that will allow us to better recognize and better address this national tragedy.”

The report updates a similar survey conducted by NSF in 1998. The vast majority of states responding to the 2007 survey indicated that they have the ability to charge a drowsy driver under existing laws, which is similar to the 1998 survey. However, the current report found that there continues to be wide variance in the types of charges that would be levied, and only New Jersey explicitly defines drowsy driving as recklessness under a vehicular homicide statue.

New Jersey’s law has served to raise awareness and there are at least eight states with 12 pending bills that address fatigued driving in various ways, but the New Jersey law and many of the pending bills are not optimal due to their narrow focus. NSF plans to work with legislators to release principles for model state legislation that take a comprehensive approach to addressing drowsy driving.

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