Traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death and injury for young drivers in Minnesota and across the country. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), teens are in three times more fatal crashes than any other class of drivers.
As a result, the NHTSA pushes a number of teen safety initiatives, including National Teen Driver Safety Week. Organizations around the state also take steps to prevent Minnesota car crashes involving teenagers. While many safety campaigns focus on cell phone distractions and drunk driving, drowsy driving should also be part of the national and state agenda.
High School Car Accidents Involving Drowsy Driving
In 2008, researchers at the University of Kentucky sought to assess the correlation between students’ sleep and motor vehicle accidents. Reviewing nearly 20,000 questionnaires for 1998 and 1999 from Lexington students regarding sleep habits, the University of Kentucky research found that when average hours of nightly sleep increased and catch-up sleep on weekends decreased, crash rates for teen drivers dropped dramatically.
In 2010, Robert Vorona, a sleep doctor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, devised his own study. Inspired by his high-school-aged child, he sought to study the effects of sleep deprivation on teen driver safety. With the cooperation of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (VDMV), Vorona collected data on crash information for teen drivers in two cities, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. The two cities had different high school start times.
Vorona’s analysis revealed that Virginia Beach students, who had the earlier high school start time, had a 40 percent higher teen crash rate. Reporting his findings at SLEEP 2010, a meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, Vorona’s work made a case for later high school start times.
Individuals, Communities and Governments Must Work to Stop Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving is a real public safety issue. According to the NHTSA, thousands of motor vehicle crashes are linked to this type of impaired driving. The federal agency estimates that roughly 40,000 nonfatal injuries and 1,550 fatalities result from drowsy driving.
Individual drivers must include sleep in their pre-drive preparation plans. Meanwhile, communities should consider hosting educational programs and safety initiatives that increase awareness of the problem, and the federal government should approve highway counter-measures ” such as rumble strips and rest areas ” that alert drivers about problems and offer safety respite locations.
No driver is immune from drowsy driving, but truckers, shift workers, teens and those suffering from sleep disorders are the major offenders. Combating this preventable risk will require individual, community and governmental interventions.