Guest opinion: Driving drowsy can be deadly

Eight years ago, I sped across the I-90 Bridge to Harborview Medical Center. As I did, I begged for God to take my life, “Take me instead. Not her!”

  • Wednesday, November 19, 2014 2:06pm
  • Opinion

Editor’s note: Getting behind the wheel while tired or sleepy is not a crime like driving drunk. But it can be just as dangerous and just as deadly.

In 2010, sleepy drivers killed 16 people and seriously injured 60 more in Washington. Nationwide, drowsy drivers cause 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year. It’s one of the reasons why our state recognized Nov. 2-9 as Washington state Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.

Issaquah resident Mora Haggerty Shaw was nearly killed as a result of an early morning, single-car accident caused by a drowsy driver in July 2006. Mora is the daughter of one of our newspaper colleagues, William Shaw. Below is his experience. We hope it serves as a bit of a wake-up call for those who may not take driving drowsy seriously. — SG

Eight years ago, I sped across the I-90 Bridge to Harborview Medical Center. As I did, I begged for God to take my life, “Take me instead. Not her!”

Just 15 minutes before my drive across the bridge, my wife Mary Beth and I had received the phone call that every parent dreads. Our 17-year-old daughter Mora was in E.R. at Harborview. All we knew was that she had been in a terrible car accident and that her condition was critical. Like any parent, I bargained and begged aloud for God to spare the life of my child.

Since then, I’ve told our story about drowsy driving — over and over again. And I will continue to do so until people take drowsy driving more seriously. That frantic trip across I-90 was just one of the moments from that harrowing time that is seared in to my psyche. There are other memories of terrible moments like that which stay with me and continue to push my family and me to carry on in our mission to talk about the dangers of of drowsy driving:

• The sadness in the doctor’s eyes three days later as she took my wife and I over to a private corner after the morning consult was over. She told us that the trauma team was very disheartened. After being in a coma for three days, Mora’s brain was not showing any signs of response and they were losing hope of her recovery or survival.

• The devastation in my wife’s eyes as we approached our family in the Trauma ICU waiting room. When we said it looked like Mora would not make it, our family closed around us in an elemental circle of love and shared anguish. Defiantly, my mother said, “Well, we’ll just have to pray even harder!”

• The disbelief and anger we felt when we were told by the Washington State Patrol trooper that the driver of the car Mora was a passenger in had been awake for more than 20 hours before she got behind the wheel. That she fell asleep while driving over Blewett Pass.

• Or Mora’s first words over a month later … whispered in pain and agony, trapped in a full body cast and an injured brain. “I hate this.” Or six months later, when she was an 18-year-old woman, when she took her first baby step without a wheelchair, crutches, or a scooter, knowing she would need multiple surgeries on her ankle for years to come.

We cannot give Mora back the years that were taken away from her or the pain that she continues to deal with. But we can try to spare others from suffering terrible, life-changing injuries like hers. And to prevent more easily avoidable deaths from drowsy driving.

Half of our mission is to promote drowsy driving awareness and prevention through education. In print, online and on television, we have warned about the dangers of drowsy driving. We have shouted about it from the rooftops and in our state Legislature’s House Judiciary Committee. But prevention and education goes only half way. For as with drunk driving 40 years ago and wearing seatbelts 20 years ago, perceptions about and laws and penalties against drowsy driving need to be changed.

If a person gets behind the wheel of a car that has not slept for 20-24 hours and causes an injury or death, there should be serious consequences to their actions and added teeth to the current reckless driving laws. Before others are injured or killed by drowsy drivers, we urge our legislators to seriously look at tougher penalties and fines if a driver causes injury of death after falling asleep while behind the wheel of a car.

Mora has miraculously defied all the medical odds and is living her amazing life. But others have not been so “lucky.” If one person getting behind the wheel of a car thought first and took a nap, Mora’s life and many others like her would have been different. Others lives would have been saved.

Years later, as our governor proclaims Washington State Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, the Shaw family will continue to make noise about drowsy driving and its consequences. And we will never forget.

 

William Shaw is the regional publisher for the Bellevue Reporter, Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter, Mercer Island Reporter and Snoqualmie Valley Record.

 

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