NTSB Holds Awake, Alert, Alive Public Forum on Drowsy Driving

Almost 8,000 people are killed each year in the United States in automobile accidents involving drowsy drivers.  Police reports estimate that almost 100,000 accidents occur each year on our roadways caused by drivers who are impaired by a lack of sleep.  In an effort to shed light on the seriousness of drowsy driving, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) recently held its first ever public forum titled, Awake, Alert, & Alive.  Panelists presented information related to the causes of drowsy driving, its implications in relation to noncommercial drivers, and the severity of the problem across the nation.  The focus of the panel was on developing strategies to prevent drowsy drivers from getting behind the wheel by educating the public on the risks associated with this form of impaired driving.

In a 2010 study conducted by AAA, over 40% of drivers surveyed admitted to drifting off or actually falling asleep behind the wheel.  By educating the public on what drowsy driving is, identifying ways to assess a driver’s level of fatigue, and developing strategies that offer alternatives to drowsy driving, the NTSB hopes to reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents and casualties occurring at astonishing rates across the United States.

There are many causes of driver fatigue, such as sleep apnea, working prolonged or erratic hours, driving over long distances, and inexperienced drivers who may not realize the impact that their fatigue has on their ability to react to situations on the road.  According to the NTSB, just two hours of missed sleep can have a 20-50% impact on a driver’s ability to remain focused and alert while driving.  This lack of alertness can significantly contribute to automobile crashes when drivers run stop signs or traffic lights, illegally cross over traffic lanes, or fail to respond quickly to sudden traffic situations.

A few automobile manufacturers are responding to the problem of drowsy driving by adding technology to their cars that can help a driver realize a dangerous level of fatigue.  The Volvo Driver Alert system is an onboard tool designed to alert a driver when their vehicle loses a certain level of control.  Mercedes Benz Attention Assist System is another onboard device that is becoming a standard feature in many of its 2014 vehicles.  Designed to alert a driver when it appears they are driving erratically, the system will suggest a period of rest to avoid a possible accident.

The Awake, Alert, Alive forum was open to the public and is available for viewing through a streamed live webcast archived at the National Traffic Safety Board offices in Washington, DC.

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