Sleepy Drivers Can Be Deadly

ByABC News via logo
January 8, 2009, 12:11 AM

April 23, 2007 — -- Accidents caused by sleepy drivers happen in an instant and can be deadly.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sleepy drivers are responsible for at least 1,500 deaths every year and cause more than 100,000 accidents.

"A drowsy driver on the road can look a lot like a drunk driver," said AAA's Justin McNaull. "They have trouble keeping their car between the lines. Speed will vary."

At a gas station and convenience store in Danville, W.V., a driver fell asleep at the wheel and his car went out of control, causing an explosion at a gas pump. No one was seriously hurt.

"It's a miracle of God, a miracle of God," store manager Vamshi Kesari said. "It could have been a massacre."

The danger exists long before drivers fall asleep; nodding off even for three seconds at 70 mph equals traveling the length of a football field with your eyes closed.

Even professional drivers are not immune. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip nodded off and crashed a mile from his home.

"I guess I relaxed a little bit and looking forward to getting here and ran off the road," he said. "I woke up [with] the gravel hitting under my tires."

New Jersey is currently the only state with a law to combat drowsy driving, something other states are now considering.

States are also looking into high- and low-tech solutions.

Rumble strips, or ruts in the pavement that rattle drivers awake if they veer off the road, have dramatically reduced crashes. Computerized lane departure warning systems are also in development to keep drivers inside the lines.

Engineers are also developing devices that sound an alarm after tracking driver's eye and facial muscles to detect driver fatigue.