clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Wake up! Drowsy driving fatalities spike during summer months

HERRIMAN — Seven years later, Lucinda Campbell still tears up talking about the death of her son, Tyler Blais.

"They were on a road trip, just being boys," she said. "They’d been on the road almost 24 hours when it happened."

Blais, 17, and a friend were traveling on a summer road trip to the Grand Canyon. On the way back, about an hour away from home, his friend fell asleep at the wheel. The car veered into a guard rail, killing the two boys.

Campbell spoke about the accident at a news conference Wednesday, encouraging drivers to avoid driving drowsy this summer.

"It’s very important to pay attention and not drive tired, and not drive after you’ve been up for hours and hours," she said.

Drowsy driving crashes increase during the summer months, according to Zero Fatalities, a collaborative campaign focused on saving lives on Utah roads. More than 1,000 drowsy driving-related crashes happen every year in Utah.

In 2016, there were more than 1,200 crashes due to drowsy driving; 15 of those were fatal crashes, the highest number over the past five years.

"Drowsy driving is universal," said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation. "We don’t all drink. We’re not all aggressive behind the wheel. But we all need our sleep. We all get tired. And there’s no way to fight sleep. Your body is always going to win."

The symptoms of drowsy driving are comparable to drunken driving, Zero Fatalities reported. Like alcohol, fatigue slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgement.

"We talk a lot about buckling up, (and) we talk a lot about impaired driving and distracted driving, but drowsy driving is a big concern," Gleason said.

A sign of drowsy driving is heavy eyelids, swerving in and out of lanes, hitting rumble strips and not remembering driving the last few miles, he continued.

Another symptom of drowsy driving are "microsleeps," when drivers close their eyes for just four or five seconds. Vehicles can travel 360 feet at 60 mph in that amount of time.

"A good rule of thumb is if you’re asking the question, ‘Am I too tired? Should I pull over?’ The answer is yes, because your body is already shutting down," Gleason said.

Troy Tait, cofounder of the Sleep Smart Drive Smart campaign, said sleep deprivation is only part of the reason people are tired behind the wheel. Sun exposure can also cause fatigue for drivers.

"People are getting ready for their summer vacations, going to spend a lot of time out in the sun," he said. "The sun can be very draining. It’s important we take care of our bodies when we’re out there."

Tait said drinking lots of water, taking short naps, spending breaks in the shade and wearing sunscreen can prevent fatigue after being in the sun.

"If you’re feeling fatigued, don’t get behind the wheel," he said. "If you start seeing that your yawns are nonstop, you don’t remember the last 500 yards of driving, your body is subconsciously telling you, ‘Hey, I’m getting too tired.'"

Nearly 40 percent of drowsy driving crashes result in injury, Zero Fatalities reported. When drivers recognize they are driving drowsy, Gleason suggested pulling over for a few minutes.

"When you’re out in the sun all day and you get behind the wheel, it makes sense that drowsiness can happen every quickly," he said. "Find a safe spot on the road, pull over, get out, walk around, stretch, something to get a little bit more energy."

If that doesn't work, finding a safe place to take short nap is a good idea, Gleason said. Passengers can also help by staying awake and helping keep the driver awake.

"Everybody’s knows what I’m talking about. Everybody’s driven drowsy," Tait said. "If it continues, then you need to pull over."