Study finds falling asleep at the wheel a common problem

Nov 14 2010 - 11:59pm

LAYTON -- Falling asleep behind the wheel is more common than people think, according to a new national study.

The nationwide study from AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety says that 41 percent of all drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel at some point in their lives, with one in 10 saying they've done so in the past year.

The foundation's president and CEO Peter Kissinger said sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time and impairs judgment just like drugs or alcohol, contributing to the possibility of a crash.

"Being sleepy is very dangerous," he said. "We need to change the culture so that not only will drivers recognize the dangers of driving while drowsy but will stop doing it."

State numbers mimic those of the national study.

According to a Utah Department of Public Safety poll, 40 percent of adult drivers -- about 642,000 people -- say they have fallen asleep or nodded off for even a moment, while driving. Approximately 64,000 Utah drivers admitted they had been involved in a crash because they fell asleep at the wheel.

In 2009, 29 of the 245 total traffic fatalities in Utah were fatigue- related, UDOT figures show.

Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Jesse Valenzuela said drivers who think they may be too drowsy to drive should listen to their bodies and pull over immediately.

"If you are drowsy, you should pull off of the road immediately and check into a hotel, or find some place to sleep," he said. "Drowsy driving is just like someone driving under the influence. It's the same as being impaired."

Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Vic Saunders said the state has taken measures to prevent fatalities caused by drowsy driving.

Saunders said in a direct response to cross-over crashes, many of which are caused by drowsy driving, UDOT extended the center median barrier on Highway 89 in Sardine Canyon. It also has installed cable-median barriers at several locations on Interstate 15 through Weber and Davis counties.

"We're trying to be proactive about it," Saunders said.

"A lot of times people are coming home from work late and they get a little sleepy and can start to drift," he said. "Most of these barriers we put up assist in that kind of incident."

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