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Getting There: Drowsy driving a growing problem

Mon., Nov. 15, 2010, midnight

Sleepiness factoring into more fatal crashes

More than four out of 10 drivers admitted to having fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once, according to a newly released study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Drowsy driving has long been considered one of the top causes of motor vehicle accidents and fatalities, and this new study indicates why sleep deprivation is a wide-reaching and possibly bigger problem than previously thought.

Of those surveyed, more than a quarter reported that within the past month they were so drowsy they had difficulty keeping their eyes open behind the wheel.

“It’s shocking when you think about the number,” said Dan Bleier, a spokesman for the foundation in Washington, D.C. “It’s a scary thought.”

The study comes from interviews with 2,000 U.S. residents ages 16 and older last spring by a polling consultant.

It is part of the third annual Traffic Safety Culture Index report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The findings are consistent, if not more alarming, than a previous study on the subject.

In 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 37 percent of drivers acknowledged falling asleep or nodding off while driving at some point in their lives.

In the new AAA Foundation study, 41 percent of respondents said they had fallen asleep at the wheel at least once, with 11 percent of them saying that the incident had happened to them within the past year.

Out of that 11 percent, slightly more than half reported that the sleep incident occurred while driving on a high-speed divided highway.

To give an idea how dangerous this is, a vehicle can travel 100 yards in two seconds at 60 mph. When drivers doze off at that speed, they can veer off the road or into oncoming lanes “very quickly,” Bleier said.

Two years ago, the NHTSA said 2.4 percent of fatal accidents involved a drowsy driver.

Now, the NHTSA has startling new figures from a comprehensive sample of 50,000 accidents nationwide.

The agency found that 16.5 percent of fatal crashes from the sampling involved a drowsy driver, a marked increase from the 2008 number.

Bleier said in a news release that “these percentages are substantially higher than most previous estimates, suggesting that the contribution of drowsy driving to motor vehicle crashes, injuries and deaths has not been fully appreciated.”

Pickup is for street leaves only

Spokane street maintenance crews this week will begin their annual sweep of the city to gather up leaves that have fallen into the streets.

As in past years, the city is asking residents not to rake leaves from their lawns and walkways into the street. The city says it is clearing leaves that naturally fall, but many residents disregard this and use the street as an easy and cheap disposal method.

The leaf clearing is beginning in northwest Spokane and moving south and east from there over the next several weeks.

Snow could stop progress and force crews to switch to plowing.

If that happens, piles of leaves that have been raked off lawns, drives and walks could break down into a gooey mess, clogging storm drains and creating traction and footing problems.

The city’s transfer stations will take up to 280 pounds of yard waste for $5. Those leaves are diverted to a composting operation for recycling into soil conditioner.

Also, the leaves can be used in residential composting or spread over garden beds to become mulch next spring.

The Spokane Regional Solid Waste System recommends using one part brown materials, such as fallen leaves, to two parts green material, such as grass clippings and vegetable waste.

Leaves can be bagged and held until spring for quicker composting when grass is growing.

For more information, go to www.solidwaste.org.

Meeting will address Second Avenue

Reconstruction of the east half of Second Avenue in the downtown area next year will be the subject of a public meeting on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in the Downtown Library, 906 W. Main Ave. in Room 1-A.

Business and property owners, drivers and residents can learn more about the project, which will run from Howard Street east to Arthur Street.



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