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New Report Sounds Wakeup Call on Dangers of Drowsy Driving

August 09, 2016, by David Cullen

Images: GHSA
Images: GHSA

A report issued Aug. 8 by the Governors Highway Safety Association on the “extreme danger posed by tired drivers” includes a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that pegs the annual societal cost of fatigue-related fatal and injury crashes at $109 billion— and that does not include property damage.

That’s why, according to GHSA, NHTSA has expanded its definition of impaired driving to include not only drunk, drugged and distracted drivers, but also those who are drowsy behind the wheel.

NHTSA states on its website that drowsy driving is a form of impaired driving. “Most people associate impaired driving with alcohol or drugs, but in this situation, sleepiness is the primary cause,” per the agency. “Drowsy driving is not just falling asleep at the wheel. Driver alertness, attention, reaction time, judgment and decision-making are all compromised leading to a greater chance of crashing.”

According to NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, drowsy drivers involved in a crash are twice as likely to make performance errors as compared to drivers who are not fatigued. “In extreme cases, a drowsy driver may fall asleep at the wheel,” the agency said.

The 73-pg. GHSA report, titled Wake Up Call! Understanding Drowsy Driving and What States Can Do, was funded through a grant from insurance company State Farm. The report was researched and written by consultant Pam Fischer.

GHSA worked with a panel of experts to develop the report and identify the key takeaways and featured programs. Those experts included GHSA and State Farm executives, a NHTSA research psychologist, and medical directors and other professionals engaged in the study of or the practice of sleep medicine.

The report examines the cause and effect of drowsy driving as well as how states and others can best address it. It discusses legislative, enforcement, education, and engineering countermeasures being employed as well as in-vehicle technologies that are available today or seen as on the horizon.

Also provided are examples of state best practices to address the issue, including efforts in Iowa, New York, Texas and Utah.

Author Fischer found that “nearly 83.6 million sleep-deprived Americans are driving every day” and they are responsible for the estimated 5,000 lives that were lost in drowsy driving-related crashes last year.

In press release, GHSA stated that while estimates of deaths caused by drowsy drivers range from 2% to 20% of all traffic fatalities, safety officials agree that the extent of the problem is not fully known.

“There are challenges associated with both measuring and combating drowsy driving,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “Law enforcement lack protocols and training to help officers recognize drowsy driving at roadside. And if a crash occurs, the drowsy driver may not report the cause due to concerns about monetary and other penalties.”

Chris Mullen, State Farm’s director of technology research, characterized drowsy driving as a serious highway-safety issue. “We encourage drivers to remember the role that rest plays in safe driving, and to prioritize getting enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. As this report highlights, learning to recognize the warning signs of drowsiness can also help us take appropriate action if we become a drowsy driver.”

To help state highway- safety departments address the behavioral side of drowsy driving and develop strategies to combat it, the report delves into the crash characteristics and drivers who are most at risk.

“Teens and young adults are involved in more than half of all drowsy-driving crashes annually,” said Adkins. “People who work nights or long or irregular shifts are also more likely to get behind the wheel when they are too tired to drive, along with the estimated 40 million Americans who suffer from a sleep disorder.”

Fischer said recognizing that reality merits a change in how sleep is viewed. “Sleep is a restorative and life-sustaining activity that is just as important as eating right and exercising,” she said. “When we skimp on sleep, we’re less able to react quickly– a critical element of safe driving. Our mental and physical health also suffers.”

The report recommends that states partner with other sectors, including public health, business, academia, and nonprofits, to change the culture.

As regards truck drivers specifically, the report states that “Long work hours, irregular schedules and the economic pressures associated with moving goods and people, put commercial motor vehicle operators at risk for not getting sufficient sleep and for developing health issues.”

The report contends that while federal Hours of Service rules establish the maximum number of hours in a day and a week that a CMV operator can drive, as well as rules on breaks and restarts, “repeated efforts to modify HOS regulations have resulted in the suspension of some provisions. Additionally, HOS rules impact CMV drivers differently depending on how they are employed and what they drive. The need to ensure that drivers are well rested and alert before getting behind the wheel remains problematic.”

“Just like drunk driving and seat belts, it’s going to take all of us to get the public to recognize the seriousness of drowsy driving,” said Fischer.

GHSA will hold a webinar to discuss key findings and recommendations of the report on August 11 at 2 p.m. EDT. Click here to register.


  1. 1. Vee [ August 10, 2016 @ 04:36AM ]

    God damn, give us a break with the b.s. huh??!!

  2. 2. Joe Ferguson [ August 10, 2016 @ 06:00AM ]

    I still firmly believe that our Hours of Service are still the major issue. Here is my thought once again. 1) 10 hours drive time 2) 4 hours on duty not driving 3) Split sleeper / Off duty not driving which stops the drivers clock 4) 8 hour sleeper berth 5) 70 hours total 6) 34 hour restart This would relieve a lot of stress in our industry

  3. 3. UH2L [ August 10, 2016 @ 06:48AM ]

    I don't think the hours since last sleep is the main issue. It's the amount of sleep the driver has had in the last few days or week. I know if I get drowsy, it's also related to how much I've eaten recently, caffeine consumption, how much I've exercised, etc...

  4. 4. Bill [ August 10, 2016 @ 07:14AM ]

    More of the same, it seems we keep patching problems rather than look at the end result..For the sake of me \I do not understand why a driver cannot break his rest period. the rules today says u will drive continuous from start until exhaustion, FMCSA get a life and remember when u make rules look down the road at what can happen your families are on the highway to.......

  5. 5. Michael Galorath [ August 12, 2016 @ 03:04AM ]

    Let's stop pussy footing around here. 4 wheeler s are more to blame for accidents and fatigue driving tops them all. Cell phones contribute more to the problem. The Omama administration is and has been pushing real hard for autonomous vehicle's. We don't even have laws to regulate them. Can the driver drive intoxicated then the vehicle does all the work. Can I sleep on my way home after being out all night. Ha I worked a double today and I'm exhausted, No worries my car knows the way home. We have no standards for fatigue driving. We don't even enforce the use of cell phones and texting our using the internet why'll driving. States and feds stop the reports and BS enforce the laws we have first then see how things pan out! O by the way cell phone enforcement is only enforced in court after the fatality and by the victims families!

  6. 6. Lee Lenard [ August 13, 2016 @ 09:52PM ]

    Good and accurate comments.....wish FMCSA could read or moreover that everyone in decision making process at FMCSA had at least 2 years of truck driving experience.....think we could then get rational sensible rules to protect public, truck drivers and as Michael points out the 4 wheelers that are talking on the phone, texting, watching movies and playing on the computer plus those that should never have been granted a license. Commercial vehicles (18 wheeler s especially) prevent more 4 wheeler accidents than they are ever involved in....there currently is no way to accurately document this.
    Yes the greatest contributor to Commercial Fatigue is the "hours of service" restrictions & the amount of rest a driver has had in past 3 days. 11 driving fine: 14 max of continuous duty, fine; but allow rest breaks without being counted against 14 so long as they exceed 1 hour......give the driver a break, let him rest when needed without penalty!!!!

  7. 7. rick blatter [ August 14, 2016 @ 09:48AM ]

    "The rule aims to reduce fatigue-related crashes by drivers who may have doctored their paper logs to hide the real hours they have driven beyond what regulations allow."

    Although drivers may "cheat" in the short term with paper logs, it allows them the FLEXIBILITY to get back on their CIRCADIAN RHYTHM. No one can indefinitely cheat... as any parent of a newborn knows. Sleep deprivation catches up, then you need to pay back the SLEEP DEPT.

    SLEEP DEPRIVATION is also a well known and widely used TORTURE TECHNIQUE. Drivers do not inflict TORTURE on themselves very long.

    RECENT RESEARCH SHOWS that electronic logs that dictate sleep against a driver's CIRCADIAN RHYTHM don't work. They are dangerous. ELDs cause MORE ACCIDENTS than paper logs!

    Electronic Logs, according to RESEARCH BOTH IN the USA & EUROPE, CAUSE MORE ACCIDENTS than paper logs. Undoubtedly because absurd rules that DESTROY a DRIVER'S CIRCADIAN RHYTHM due to their inflexibility and total disregard for human life are strictly enforced to the minute. A machine cannot dictate sleep nor rest, nor wakefulness, no matter what we try to legislate, or say. Only YOUR BODY can tell you this.

    The purpose of ELDs was to "REDUCE ACCIDENTS", but the exact opposite is what is happening. Do we have a problem?

    "Last year the German insurance company Kravag reported an investigation that found trucks with digital tachograph were involved in more accidents than those with manual analog recorders."

    Electronic logbooks in Europe: Endless row of misfortunes, or a paper pusher's dream? -

    Carriers with ELDs crash MORE

    Andrew King of the OOIDA Foundation says "FMCSA’s own data demonstrates that carriers with ELDs crash MORE than those carriers without such devices."

    He goes on to say "FMCSA’s final rule was founded on nothing more than assumptions and what the OOIDA Foundation refers to as 'we believe science.' ”

    Considering that the FMCSA purports "the final rule stands to prevent an estimated...." (some fictitious number) "loss of lives and..." (some other fictitious number) "crashes annually while significantly strengthening compliance..." it would be interesting to take them to task for this.

    Based on ACTUAL STATISTICS from companies that have "voluntarily" implemented ELDs, is there ANY STATISTICAL DIFFERENCE in number of crashes and/ or deaths before and after? Has anyone found an improvement?

    Before implementing anything this costly industry wide there better be SCIENTIFIC PROOF behind such "mandates" and the many kinks in the system must be resolved beforehand.

    Normally in science there are TRIALS to make sure that the HYPOTHESIS is actually backed up by scientific evidence.

    Normally in science the hypothesis is checked out through SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH (TRIALS) BEFOREHAND to make sure that our hypothesis actually works and we do more good than harm. When it turns out that the hypothesis is wrong, it does more harm than good, or it is economically unviable, we go back to the drawing board before mass implementation.

    That's "science".

    "Experts" have admitted the new US HOS rules are "ABSURD". So how did the FMCSA get away with changing something that worked and was tolerable to something that is "ABSURD" and violates every principle of healthy sleep known to man: maintaining a regular circadian rhythm (regularity, consistency, and not changing start times & sleeping patterns every day, which is what the "new rules" do)?

    And how can they justify forcing everyone to use ELDs if they have the exact opposite effect of what was hypothesized? I would "hypothesize" the major "problem" is the ill conceived "new rules".

    ELDs force drivers to follow ABSURD rules to the minute or risk fines with no tolerance for traffic/ unforeseen delays/ complications. These NEW rules not only do not take into consideration a driver's CIRCADIAN RHYTHM, they totally destroy it.

    Rather than the driver deciding/ feeling when he is sleepy, an unforgiving electronic device tells him when he must sleep. Dogs, Cats, Babies, Grand Parents, your parents, probably the "rule makers" and/ or their parents... all take naps. Whole cultures have taken afternoon naps for hundreds of years! (Mexicans, the Spanish...) Popular US "EXPERTS" have even written BEST SELLING books about the value of a "POWER NAP" for everyone, including top executives, to INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY. But somehow the FMCSA disagrees, or is oblivious to this!?

    Further, with no partial sleeper possibility, drivers are FORCED to drive non-stop (except for the obligatory 30 minutes pre 8 hr "rest") for fear of running out of hours at the end of the day, whether sleepy or not.

    Then with 10 HOURS OBLIGATORY CONSECUTIVE TIME OFF, TOO MUCH TIME AT THE END OF THE DAY, drivers tend to eat humongous quantities of food at the end of the day just before going to bed !!! ???

    This goes against everything we know about HEALTHY sleep, driver health, and healthy eating habits.

    Since CANADA still uses the "old" humane rules of split sleeper berth, and requires only 8 consecutive hours off at night allowing drivers to have a BIG 2 HOUR LUNCH without fear of running out of hours at the end of the day, would it be possible to compare Canadian Crash Rates for big rigs with US Crash Rates using the new US rules? Are big rig crash rates higher in Canada using the "old US rules"? I am sure they are lower.

    As a matter of fact, I believe if US Crash Rates were compared before and after the "new rule" change, the "old rules" would be found much safer.

    The FMCSA claims the "accident/death rates are now lower" due to their "new rules" in the USA. However, in Canada the accident/ death rates are down too, using the "old rules". So this "improvement" has nothing to do with their "new rules". There are clearly other factors at play. Probably pressure from INSURANCE COMPANIES threatening careless carriers with exorbitant insurance rates, or threatening to cease insuring them at all if claims don't decrease.

    I pray that science and common sense one day triumphs over propaganda and manipulation.

    The whole premise behind ELDs is "SAFETY". Either they (ELDs) don't work, or the "new rules" they force drivers to abide by don't work.

    MORE RESEARCH is required to find the problem(s) and develop a real solution. This is why in "science" there are TRIALS.

    The most cost effective SOLUTION would be to give load brokers, shippers & receivers the same monetary fine(s) and CSA points as the driver/ carrier every time a driver pulling their load gets an HOS, over weight or over size fine. Making all trucking transportation partners ACCOUNTABLE for their actions/ coercion would put an end to this behaviour. The above would also leave a ticket trail to the guilty parties thereby exposing them and putting an end to their era of total impunity. This would also generate 3 (three) times more revenue for the government without adding BILLIONS of dollars of added equipment (ELDs) to trucks. Unnecessary equipment that is unproven, or actually PROVEN MORE DANGEROUS because in both the USA & EUROPE ELD equipped trucks CRASH MORE !!! ???

    Rick Blatter, B.Ed., M.Sc. holds a Master of Science degree in Exercise Physiology, and specializes in Employee Wellness & Fitness Programs. His thesis involved researching optimal sleep for HEALTH & LONGEVITY. He is Director of Safety, Loss Prevention & Wellness for a trucking company in Montreal, QC. He has been involved in trucking for 22 years, holds a CDL and has personally driven over two (2) million accident free miles all over Canada & the USA. Rick Blatter is a proud member of OOIDA.

    Rick Blatter, B.Ed., M.Sc.


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