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Drowsy driving and drunk driving are the same thing

The Goldendale Sentinel of Goldendale, Washington

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Guest Editorial

'Driver falls asleep at wheel, crashes in Vancouver. — A car crashed and rolled over on its side on Highway 14 after the driver fell asleep at the wheel.'

'Police: Drowsy driver caused crash that killed two. Marysville-The driver who caused the Jan. 2 crash that killed two people along Highway 9 near Marysville had fallen asleep at the wheel.'

'Five dead after driver falls asleep at the wheel. Walla Walla-Washington State Troopers say five are dead after a driver falls asleep at the wheel on State Route 124.'

'Semi rolls over between Arlington and Mount Vernon. — Washington State Patrol troopers said the driver of a FedEx truck that overturned on 1-5 in Snohomish County Thursday morning likely fell asleep at the wheel.'

'Sleepy driver blamed for death of motorcyclist on Interstate 405. A motorcyclist died Sunday night in an accident on Interstate 405, caused by the driver of a car who fell asleep at the wheel.' These 2015 news headlines and many more came up from a simple web search on drowsy driving in Washington State. They are grim reminders that our society is exhausted. Since the Great Recession, we are working longer hours just to keep a roof over our heads, More and more adults also suffer from undiagnosed disorders like sleep apnea and acute in-somnia. On our campuses, high school and college students pull all nighters to study for tests or write papers and are frequently tired.

We are also a culture centered around the automobile. But lack of sleep and driving a car is a deadly combination. According to the AAA Foundation, drowsy drivers are involved in an estimated 21 percent of all fatal crashes, up from 4.5 percent from 2010. Nationwide, drowsy drivers have caused 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and more than 100,000 accidents each year.

A reasonable person would never drive a car when drunk. But many people will drive when they are too tired. There is no difference between being drunk or tired when you are behind the wheel. A study by researchers in Australia showed 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 state.

We tend to ignore statistics of drowsy driving injuries and deaths. We think, 'That will never happen to me.' Sadly, my daughter, Mora Shaw, was one of those drowsy driving stats. She and my family know firsthand the pairt and suffering caused by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel of a car after being awake for over 20 hours. Nine years ago, Mora, then a 17-year-old Issaquah high graduate, was nearly killed as a result of driver who fell asleep at the wheel while driving over Blewett Pass. Suffering serious multiple fractures and a two week coma, Mora barely survived. She spent years in recovery.

Like drunk driving prevention 30 years ago, the only thing that will change mind-sets and habits about drivers getting behind the wheel of a car when they have not slept for 20 plus hours is swift and sure penalties. Every Washington driver, every legislator, and every judge need to understand the widespread seriousness of drowsy driving. Their attitudes and our laws about it need to change.

Drowsy driving kills, injures, and shatters lives just the same as drunk drivers do. Ask the family and friends of those lost or injured this year. Just ask my daughter. Just ask me.

Governor Jay Inslee has proclaimed Nov. 1-8 as Washington State's Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. During the busy holiday season, we urge all drivers to be aware of their fatigue before getting behind the wheel of a car. Get some rest and save a life.

The Shaw family have made it their mission to educate the public on the all too often tragic consequences of driving while drowsy. The governor's statewide proclamation is also in concert with the National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation's Drowsy Driving website:

Copyright 2015 The Goldendale Sentinel, Goldendale, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015

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