Driving While Drowsy as Bad as DWI?

The dashboard camera that caught the dangerous weaving and finally the crash by a drowsy police officer illustrated what traffic experts have been preaching for years — drowsy drivers can be just as dangerous as drunk drivers.

Nevertheless, an astonishing number of motorists wouldn't flinch about driving while they are tired.

In fact, 37 percent of drivers said they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel, while 60 percent said they had driven when they felt drowsy, according to a National Sleep Foundation survey.

"Most people know the dangers associated with drinking and driving. However, driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving drunk," said Troy Green of AAA.

Police Officer's Drowsy Driving

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The point was driven home by the recently made public police dashboard camera video from Christmas Day 2006. It captured the half asleep officer weaving across the road, swerving into oncoming lanes and barely missing a set of cyclists pedaling along the road before hitting some parked cars.

Palm Beach, Fla. police officer Molly Olson was driving the cruiser caught on tape and her onboard camera showed her stepping outside the vehicle to inspect the damage before heading back on the road, where an officer finally pulled her over.

Olson initially denied she was driving erratically and told the officer she had been talking on her cell phone.

"I didn't hit anything," she insisted.

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"Obviously you did Molly. You have all this damage here. I've got another guy who says you're swerving all over the road," the officer responds.

The officer then asks Olson if she is on medication.

"No. I'm just really, really tired. I was at work till two in the morning last night," Olson responded, who later told officials she was not responsible for her actions because a combination of prescription and over-the-counter drugs — including a sleep aid — impaired her driving.

But the town's Grievance Resolution Board upheld Olson's firing on April 30.

While Olson's drowsy driving caused her to lose her job, it also highlighted just how dangerous sleepy drivers can be.

In fact, 56,000 crashes a year have drowsiness as a factor resulting in 1,550 fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

How to Avoid and Combat Sleepy Driving

Experts say conventional wisdom about opening the widows and playing the radio loudly to combat driver fatigue doesn't work. Drivers shouldn't rely on them and should pull over if they're feeling sleepy.

To avoid drowsiness while driving:

Take a break every 100 miles.
Take turns driving with a partner.
Do not start your trip at night.

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