TAYLORSVILLE — The most in-depth research ever done in the United States regarding drowsy driving shows the dangerous behavior is responsible for a much higher percentage of crashes than previous federal estimates.
“Drowsy driving is difficult to prove,” said John Gleason, a Zero Fatalities and Utah Department of Transportation Spokesman, agreeing with the findings of an AAA study released Thursday.
“There’s not a breathalyzer for drowsy driving,” he said.
Many people involved in a crash will not admit that they were tired. If it’s a fatal crash, investigators can have a hard time pinpointing drowsy driving as the cause.
Lives Lost to Drowsy Driving
One Utah mom, who lost her son in a car crash seven years ago, wishes drowsy driving had been on her radar.
Tyler Blias died in an accident that investigators say was caused by drowsy driving
“He had a huge heart. He was everybody’s best friend,” said Lucinda Campbell, characterizing her son.
On July 3, 2010, Tyler and a close friend were headed home from a road trip to the Grand Canyon. They left Nevada around 9 p.m. headed for Salt Lake.
“They were both just exhausted,” Campbell said. But she believes the 17-year-olds felt invincible, unaffected by exhaustion.
Her son’s friend was driving. They made it as far as Santaquin, nearly an hour from home.
“We believe that he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a guardrail and killed them both,” Campbell said.
The Study’s Findings
For the study, AAA used an unprecedented analysis of in-vehicle dashcam video from more than 700 crashes, confirming that the danger of drowsy driving soars above official estimates. Researchers examined video of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash. Using a scientific measure linking the percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed to their level of drowsiness, the researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness. Federal estimates indicate drowsiness is a factor in only one to two percent of crashes.
“We’ve known for a long time that we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to drowsy driving,” said Gleason.
What Your Family Can Do
Utah statistics reveal more than 1,000 drowsy driving crashes in Utah in each of the last six years, with a high of 15 fatalities in 2016. But Gleason said those numbers are also likely low.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Campbell said.
She had talked to her son about drunk driving, distracted driving and buckling up, but not drowsy driving.
“I did tell him, ‘If you get tired, pull over’, but it was just a passing thing,” shared Campbell. “It wasn’t something I insisted on, which I wish I would have.”
“We can make the choice not to drink and drive,” Gleason said. “We can make the choice to buckle up, but every one of us gets tired.”
Gleason urges all of us to recognize the signs before they become a problem and pull over.
“If you’re asking yourself, ‘Should I pull over? Am I too tired?’ The answer is yes because your body has already started to shut down,” he said.
If you realize you’re falling asleep, experts recommend you pull over, get out and stretch and take turns driving. They also suggest getting plenty of sleep before embarking on a road trip.
“I think it’s absolutely an important conversation,” Campbell said. “I think it’s something that really needs to be conveyed to these kids.”