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2 groups aim to keep drivers alert

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two government institutions are taking a swing at reducing the number of drowsy drivers, targeting teenagers and people working night, split or rotating shifts.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research were kicking off a campaign Thursday aimed at educating the public about the problem and ways to solve it.The effort will include distributing educational materials to shift workers and their employers, including advice about allowing nap breaks and providing proper air conditioning and access to proper food.

The institutions will also teach workers to adapt their sleeping environments by blocking out daylight and masking noise that can disturb them. Eighteen companies have recently been awarded $180,000 in grants to start and evaluate test programs.

The sleep disorders center, part of the National Institute of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is also teaching teens and their teachers about the dangers of drowsy driving.

The average teen needs about nine hours of sleep per night, one or two more hours than younger or older people.

The institutions said that by conservative estimates, 40,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities annually are attributable to drowsy drivers.

"As our culture moves to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation and the number of shift workers and teens continues to climb, the problem could worsen if changes are not made now," said Dr. Ricardo Martinez, an emergency room physician and head of the safety administration.