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Utah Drowsy Driving Awareness Week aims to educate on dangers

By Jed Boal | Posted - Aug. 19, 2014 at 7:02 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — This week has been designated Utah's first Drowsy Driving Awareness Week because it’s one of the top five behaviors that kill motorists in the state.

To demonstrate the impact of sleeplessness on our brains, I stayed up all night to show how it affects driving.

Right now, I've been awake for more than 28 hours. So, I'm extremely sleep deprived. But you don't need be that deprived of sleep to be a danger on the road. You may be dangerous because you don't regularly get enough sleep.

To illustrate just how easily we can slip in and out of slumber, sleep specialists at the Ogden Clinic wired me up for a polysomnography test.

Neurologist Dr. Chris Hammond said I was nodding in and out of sleep.

When this occurs, the part of the brain that makes executive decisions slows down. The same thing happens when we habitually sleep too little.

“We get in our car the next morning after four hours, thinking that we're fine — we have lost our good judgment," Hammond said.

The Utah Highway Patrol witnesses that bad judgment.

"You can go from daydreaming to all of a sudden, you're blinking your eyes, to all of a sudden you're hitting the rumble strip,” UHP Lt. Chris Simmons said. “The next thing, you're waking up in a hospital room not having any recollection of what really happened."

Are you at risk? Before you drive, check to see if you are:
  • Sleep deprived or fatigued (six hours of sleep or less triples your risk)
  • Driving longer than 100 miles or two hours without proper rest breaks
  • Driving alone — having a companion can help you stay alert
  • Driving on a long, rural or dark road
  • Driving through the night, mid-afternoon or when you would normally be asleep
  • Taking sedating medications (e.g., antidepressants, cold tablets, antihistamines)
  • Working more than 60 hours a week (increases your risk by 40 percent)
  • Suffering from insomnia or poor quality sleep
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol

Each year, drowsy driving is blamed in more than 1,100 crashes and 20 fatalities in Utah.

So far this year, more than 630 crashes and three drowsy driving deaths have occurred.

Lorri Henseler still feels the pain from the death of her son, Ronnie Lynn Thompson. He was a passenger in a drowsy driving crash 16 years ago.

"It rips apart families,” she said. "You know when you're tired, just like you know when you're drunk, and you know when you’re texting and driving that you're doing the wrong thing. You just shouldn't do it."

That's why Sen. Aaron Osmond sponsored Drowsy Driving Awareness Week.

"You are unable to discern and to make good decisions while you are on the road when you're drowsy,” he said. “It is no different than being drunk and on the road."

To spread even more awareness, on Saturday Henseler is holding a coffee for drowsy drivers event from noon to 4 p.m. at exit 84 on I-80 — the second Grantsville exit. Stop in, and talk with her about her concerns with drowsy driving.


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Jed Boal


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