Teens most likely to die in drowsy-driver crashes

WASHINGTON — A new study of the growing problem of driving while drowsy provides new insight into the scope of the problem, and into who is most vulnerable to being hurt or killed.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association estimates 5,000 lives are lost annually because a driver nodded off behind the wheel.

“It’s really an under-reported and underappreciated challenge when it comes to highway safety,” said Kara Macek, communications director with GHSA.

Macek said it is very difficult to quantify how large the problem of drowsy driving is, “because unlike driving, or distracted driving, where you do have some credible evidence with cellphones, we just don’t know, especially in fatal crashes, whether the driver fell asleep.”

The study finds young drivers are over-represented in the study.

“Teens and young adults are involved in more than half of drowsy driving crashes that we know of,” Macek said.

She said research and society is realizing teenagers need more sleep, and points to school systems which have shifted start times to allow teenagers more time to sleep.

With the advent of smartphones, “people are just up all night, texting with their friends, instead of getting the sleep they need,” Macek said. “And that’s taking a toll on our roads.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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