Imagine this: You’ve enjoyed a fun weekend in Eastern Washington, but you have to head home in the morning. Your friend goes to bed but even though you will leave early to get to work in time, you decide to stay up all night. By the time you have driven an hour, you’ve already stopped once for coffee to stay alert. You keep driving and the next thing you remember you wake up in the hospital with a broken clavicle. Your friend in the passenger seat is in a coma and will be for weeks. She’ll spend a lifetime healing from her injuries.
Imagine: You studied all night for a midterm exam. Campus is just a half hour away, but you decide to get an early start to school before traffic. You grab an espresso, crank up the music and drive. The next thing you remember you are startled awake with a loud noise when your car crashes in to another vehicle. Your airbag inflates and a few minutes later, emergency personnel are trying to save the life of the person driving the car that you hit.
After working yet another double shift, you are exhausted. You consider taking the bus but it is only a 20-minute drive home. Swigging down an energy drink, you get in the car and open the window for fresh air to try keep yourself awake as you drive. You don’t remember the next thing because there is none — you are dead.
The consequences of deciding to get behind the wheel of a car after being awake for 18-24 hours is devastating. Somebody pays the price for that decision. Our daughter Mora Shaw was nearly killed when the driver of the car she was a passenger in decided to stay awake all night before driving the 200 miles home. But they didn’t make it. The driver fell asleep and the car went off the road on Blewett Pass at 65 miles per hour. Mora paid the price — her broken body will never be the same.
As parents of a victim of a drowsy driver, we have been talking in the media about drowsy driving since 2007. There is always talk in the news about distracted driving and texting while driving. We need to continue the conversation about the epidemic of drowsy driving. Whether driving home from vacation, studying all night or working double shifts, too many people drive when they haven’t had enough sleep. The scenarios are endless, but they all have one thing in common: Drowsy Driving is a selfish act.
Tired and drowsy drivers have impaired reaction time, judgment, vision, awareness of surroundings and decision-making skills. Studies show there is no difference between being drunk driving and drowsy driving after no sleep for 18 hours to 24 hours. Research has shown that being awake for 18 hours produced an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours; .08 is considered legally drunk in Washington.
The National Sleep Foundation has declared Nov. 6-13 as Drowsy Driving Week around the country. Gov. Jay Inslee has declared Nov. 6-13 as Washington State Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week, as has the King County Council, the Washington State Patrol, AAA of Washington and other traffic safety and law enforcement groups.
But we need to do more. According to the Washington State Patrol, between 2012 and October 2015, there were more than 4,700 collisions investigated in Washington where the driver either fell asleep, was fatigued or both while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. That’s 4,700 too many.
We need our legislators to amend our reckless driving laws and penalties to include accidents when one has fallen asleep at the wheel and injured or killed someone after being awake 18-24 hours. If there are teeth to the penalties of this act, perhaps one day, we can reduce that 4,700 number to zero.
By William, Mary Beth and Mora Shaw. William Shaw is a regional publisher for Sound Publishing.
The Shaw family has made it their mission to educate the public on the all too often tragic consequences of driving while drowsy. In addition to Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2016 Washington State Drowsy Driving Prevention and Awareness Week proclamation, the Shaw family also has partnered with the Washington State Patrol, the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, AAA of Washington, The Washington State Department of Transportation and the King County Sheriffs’ Office in their efforts to promote Drowsy Driving awareness and prevention in Washington. The statewide proclamation is also in concert with the National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving website (drowsydriving.org.)