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DOT Looking at NTSB Findings on Sleep-Deprived Drivers

Our immediately preceding blog post discussed the second annual U.S. Transportation Department summit on distracted driving. The present blog might reasonably be regarded as a tandem piece. It takes a look at what National Transportation Safety Board ("NTSB") traffic experts have learned over the years in studies focusing on driver fatigue and their recommendations for loosening the tight nexus between sleep-deprived motorists and car accidents.

The NTSB was established in 1967, and is more typically seen in the news in connection with its investigation of airplane crashes. Many of its studies, though, apply with equal vigor to drivers out on the road. One of the agency's central conclusions is that a sleep-deprived driver is equally as dangerous as most drunk drivers.

That finding is confirmed by a host of domestic and foreign studies, which find that a person who has been awake for 24 hours is operating at about the same level as a person with a 0.10 blood-alcohol level, which is the standard for being legally drunk in all 50 states. Results from a John Hopkins University study show that a person that sleep deprived suffers from an inability to maintain attention, takes undue risks, has a narrowed focus that undermines the ability to monitor more than one thing at a time, and often can't even comprehend that he or she is unduly tired.

It is truly a recipe for disaster on the road. In one of its studies, the NTSB was focused on the effects of alcohol and drugs on trucking accidents. Surprisingly, it found that driver fatigue was a much larger problem, with up to 40 percent of fatal accidents owing to a simple lack of sleep.

Jim Hall, a former NTSB head, says that U.S. agencies overseeing highway safety have been slow to enact regulations that reflect strong and growing scientific evidence regarding sleep deprivation in drivers and the attendant devastation across national roadways. In response, the U.S. Transportation Department has recently established a Safety Council, which has examined and approved more NTSB regulations just within 2010 than the DOT did in any of the previous five years.

Related Resource: "Driving While Tired: Safety officials are slow to react to operator fatigue" September 27, 2010

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