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Drowsy driving worse than Drunk Driving?

Drowsy drivers mostly reach their destination safely but sometime the results are ruinous. Going home after an overtime job with tired eyes, spending all the night with a sick baby and you rest your eyes for a second on the way to dropping off your children at school can be disastrous.

The widow of a New York police officer, who died in 2011 when a suspected drowsy driver crashed into his parked cruiser, Jackie Califano said, “To this day I still hear my boys crying out, yelling for Daddy, when they were told the news. The pain we experienced is beyond description and continues to be”.

The federal statistics show that from the time span of 2000 to 2010, more than 11,000 people died due to drowsy driving. According to experts, the problem of drowsy driving cannot be solved easily by just making and implementing new laws, it is not impossible but it is very difficult to prove sleepiness while driving. It can be easily determined by the authorities if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs and how much is the person’s BAC level. The authorities can also determine if someone has been texting or talking on the cell phone while driving.

Laws that ban commercial truck and motor coach drivers from driving more than 11 hours a day and requiring 10 hours between shifts are imperfect because the drivers themselves report those hours, said the prosecutors.

Last year, a tour bus driver was proved innocent and freed from the charge of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a 2011 Bronx accident in which 15 people died. The prosecutors’ arguments that Ophadell Williams was so sleep-deprived from overtime that it affected his ability of thinking more than if he was under the influence of an intoxicant but the jury rejected the arguments.

Patrick Bruno who defended Williams in the bus accident case said, “If you are going to try and make fatigue — sleepiness — a criminal legal issue in a motor vehicle accident, you have a lot, lot more to prove”.

That decision of the jury affected a Long Island prosecutor’s decision this year to remove the negligent homicide charges against the truck driver that caused the fatal accident in which Califano’s husband died. The truck driver paid a $500 fine and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge.

Maureen McCormick said that to obtain a conviction in the police officer’s death, she would have had to prove “serious blameworthiness”, “moral blameworthiness” or “dangerous speeding,” a standard she said is impossible to meet. McCormick heads the Nassau County vehicular crimes bureau. “Drowsy driving is something that generally has happened to everyone. The question is what do we do as a society when that feeling starts to come?,” said McCormick.

At the truck driver’s sentencing, McCormick read a statement for supporting Jackie Califano, Officer Michael Califano’s widow. “Michael, Christopher and Andrew now have to grow up without him. No more doing homework with his help. No more sports with him. No more family vacations. No more horsing around with dad. No dad for Father/Son Night at school. No dad at home to turn to when they need advice”. Jackie Califano was sitting in the front row of the courtroom with his 3 sons. Her sons are 16, 13 and 8 years old.

According to a member of the National Sleep Foundation board of directors and Atlanta attorney Dan Brown, the state in which the legislation related to drowsy driving is successfully passed is New Jersey but he observed that it cannot be solved by Maggie’s law because prosecutors must show that a driver had been awake for 24 consecutive hours to prove possible recklessness which is a very difficult task. The law was implemented in 2003, since then New Jersey court officials didn’t have statistics available on the number of arrests that were made due to drowsy driving and the successful prosecution. It was said by Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Moore that he considered legislation in 2002 after a constituent’s son died in a drowsy driving accident. “It’s not as easy as drunken driving; there’s not a good deal of research,” said Moore. Manager of research and communications at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Bruce Hamilton who pays attention on issuing brochures advising on the dangers and public education campaigns said, “There’s not a way to legislate against sleepiness”.

Drivers in Tennessee’s 4 biggest cities saw message boards last summer, appealing citizens not to drive while drowsy.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which was released this year shows that in the previous month, 4% of U.S. adults felt drowsy or fell asleep at least once while driving.

Different activities like eating or chewing gum, singing in a loud voice, listening radio in a high volume cannot help and are not effective but drinking 2 cups of coffee and taking a 15-to-20-minute nap can refresh some drivers for a short period of time, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. A National Transportation Safety Board member, Mark Rosekind said drowsy driving is a big problem and to solve it, cultural change is needed. “For some reason people in our culture think it’s OK to lose sleep and get behind the wheel. It’s just as bad as drinking and driving. As far as public awareness, drowsy driving is in the dark ages compared to that, but it’s just as dangerous. The issue has been around for a while and we need to get the word out. Clearly it has not penetrated our culture,” said Rosekind.

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