Small Town News

Disaster and Accident

No difference between drowsy, drunk driving

The Quincy Valley Post-Register of Quincy, Washington

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"Driver falls asleep at wheel, crashes in Vancouver"

"Police: Drowsy driver caused crash that killed 2"

"5 dead after driver falls asleep at the wheel"

"Semi rolls over between Arlington and Mount Vernon "

"Sleepy driver blamed for death of motorcyclist on 1-405"

These 2015 news headlines — and more — came up from a simple web search on drowsy driving in Washington. 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 such as sleep apnea and acute insomnia. On our campuses, high school and college students pull all-nighters to study for tests or write papers and are always tired.

We are also a culture centered on the automobile. But lack of sleep and driving a car is a deadly combination. On Washington's roads, there were at least 10 deaths and 77 serious injuries in 2013 that were directly linked to a driver who fell asleep at the wheel. According to the AAA Foundation, drowsy drivers are involved in an estimated 21 percent of all fatal crashes, up from 4.5 percent in 2010. Nationwide, drowsy drivers cause 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. However, 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 of 0.05, and 0.10 after 24 hours. Remember, 0.08 is considered legally drunk in Washington.

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 pain 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 School graduate, was nearly killed as a result of a 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, swift and sure penalties are the only things that will change mindsets and habits about drivers getting behind the wheel of a car when they have not slept for 20 plus hours. 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. y

Gov. 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 has made it its mission to educate the public on the all too often tragic consequences of driving while drowsy. 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 Sheriff's Office in its efforts to promote Drowsy Driving awareness and prevention in Washington. The statewide proclamation by Gov. Inslee is also in concert with the National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week. Learn more at

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Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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