Many people think of drowsy driving as falling asleep at the wheel. But it is more than that: Sleepiness causes impaired driving, much like drunk and distracted driving, with effects on reaction time, judgment and decision-making.
Although drowsy driving has existed a long time, it is now getting more attention nationally and here in Iowa.
On June 29th the Drowsy Driving Summit was held at the UI College of Public Health, the first such summit in the nation. The summit kicked off a national initiative by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to highlight this critical and underappreciated public health issue.
More than 60 people attended the summit, which was co-sponsored by the UI Injury Prevention Research Center (UI IPRC), UI Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau (GTSB), the National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS), and the UI Public Policy Center.
The summit featured internationally recognized expert on human fatigue Dr. Mark R. Rosekind, who was nominated by President Barak Obama and sworn in as Administrator of NHTSA in 2014. He commended the leaders in the audience — representing law enforcement, public health/education, and transportation/safety agencies — for being the first state to put the spotlight on drowsy driving.
Precise counts of crashes caused by drowsy driving are not available, and estimates vary considerably. According to some estimates, drowsy driving could cost as many as 5,000 to 8,000 lives in the US each year. Up to 20% of annual traffic deaths may also be attributed to driver drowsiness. One thing all experts agree on: Drowsy driving is underestimated.
Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad attended the summit to talk about Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative and the importance of road safety in the state. A panel of UI researchers – including UI IPRC partners – also highlighted their drowsy driving research. UI IPRC Director Corinne Peek-Asa spoke about how changing traffic safety culture will require changes from the individual all the way to the societal level.
See other media coverage of the summit.