State Partnership Launches Drowsy Driving Prevention Radio Campaign - Targets Shift Workers and Young Drivers

Campaign kicks off during National Sleep Awareness Week, March 1-8

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2009) - New York's Partnership Against Drowsy Driving (NYPDD) announces a statewide public awareness radio campaign to alert high-risk motorists to the dangers of driver fatigue. The campaign is launched in conjunction with National Sleep Awareness Week, from March 1-8, and serves as a timely reminder of the return to Daylight Saving Time on March 8 when people "lose" an hour of sleep.

Public service announcements developed by the New York State Department of Health (DOH), with funding of nearly $7,400 from the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC), were designed to raise awareness of the risks of drowsy driving among shift workers and 16- to 24-year-old drivers and offer preventive steps to reduce the risk of a drowsy driving-related crash.

"Almost everyone is aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, but not everyone may be aware that driving while drowsy can be equally dangerous," said state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. "Falling asleep, even for a few seconds, can result in serious injury or death to you or someone else. We urge all New Yorkers to learn about the signs and symptoms of drowsy driving and the grave health risk it can pose."

"One of our key priorities is to increase highway safety and save lives by reducing needless crashes that lead to injuries and fatalities," said Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt of the New York State Police. "We are glad to be part of this effort to educate the motoring public about the risks associated with drowsy driving to further ensure the safety of all those who use New York's roadways."

According to 2007 New York State Police Crash Reports, young drivers, aged 16-24, have the highest rate of motor vehicle crashes attributed to drowsy driving. Male drivers 16 to 19 years old are six times more likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash compared to drivers aged 35-64. Although young drivers require the most amount of sleep (8-10 hours per night), they typically get the least amount of sleep.

People who are employed in occupations requiring shift work are at high risk for drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Shift workers are employees who work off-hour work schedules, such as 3-11 p.m. or 11 p.m.-7 a.m., and employees whose shifts change from week to week. Common examples of shift workers include factory employees, police and fire personnel, or nurses and other hospital staff. Due to the increased chance of sleep deprivation, shift workers experience a higher number of fatigue-related motor vehicle crashes than the general population.

"Fatigue can impair driving ability, lengthen reaction time and increase the risk of a crash," said Commissioner David J. Swarts of the Department of Motor Vehicles, who also chairs the GTSC. "Shift workers are at high risk for drowsy driving, because they typically get less sleep and keep longer hours than traditional workers. Also, our bodies are governed by internal clocks, making it harder for people who work at night to sleep during the day."

Falling asleep or feeling fatigued while driving a car, more commonly known as "drowsy driving, is a growing problem in New York State and the nation. According to the NHTSA, drowsy drivers cause at least 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in more than 1,500 deaths and 71,000 injuries. In New York State, there were more than 5,000 drowsy driving police-reported crashes in 2007. According to the NSF, the number of motor vehicle crashes caused by drowsy driving is grossly under-reported; its survey reported that half of adult Americans consistently report they have driven while drowsy, and around 20 percent admit they fell asleep behind the wheel during the previous year.

Warning signs of drowsy driving include difficulty in keeping eyes open, repeated yawning, wandering or disconnected thoughts, drifting from the driving lane and failure to remember the last few miles driven. To avoid drowsiness while driving, get adequate sleep before driving and take breaks about every 100 miles or two hours during long trips. If possible, share driving responsibilities with passengers in the car who are licensed to drive. Never drink alcohol before driving, and be aware of the potential side effects of medications you take, as some may cause drowsiness.

Opening a window, turning on air conditioning or playing loud music will not help keep you alert, and caffeine provides only a short-term increase in alertness. If you experience drowsiness, pull over to a safe place for a rest or to sleep for the night.

The NYPDD was formed in 2003 to increase public awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving and to promote the adoption of preventive behaviors to reduce the incidence of fatigue-related crashes. The partnership is led by the DOH's Bureau of Injury Prevention and consists of representatives from GTSC, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), New York State Thruway Authority, New York State Police, New York State Motor Truck Association, New York State Movers & Warehousemen's Association, New York State Association of Traffic Safety Boards, Capital Region Sleep Wake Center, the New York State Department of Transportation and AAA Hudson Valley.

For more information about drowsy driving prevention, visit the DMV's web site at www.dmv.ny.gov, the GTSC's web site at www.safeny.com or the DOH's website at www.nyhealth.gov/publications/3041.