• May 12th 2013 at 12:55AM
  • 108
Over 11,000 deaths were attributed to drowsy driving fr... Over 11,000 deaths were attributed to drowsy driving from 2000 to 2010 (Ken Lund, Flickr).
MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- It probably happens to most drivers.

Heading home after an overtime shift and the eyelids flutter. Up all night with a sick baby and you rest your eyes for just a moment on the way to dropping off the kids at school. Drowsy drivers often make it safely to their destination, but for some, the consequences are devastating.

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

More than 11,000 deaths were attributed to drowsy driving from 2000 to 2010, according to federal statistics. And experts say it's a problem that can't easily be solved by new laws because proving sleepiness behind the wheel is difficult, if not impossible.
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Authorities can easily determine how much alcohol is in a driver's blood, or whether someone has used illegal drugs, or even if someone has been texting while driving.

But quantifying drowsy driving is not an exact science, prosecutors say, and laws banning commercial truck and motor coach operators from driving more than 11 hours a day and requiring 10 hours between shifts are flawed because they often rely on the drivers to report those hours themselves.

In a drowsy driving case late last year, a tour bus driver was acquitted of manslaughter and negligent homicide in a 2011 Bronx crash that killed 15 people. A jury rejected prosecutors' arguments that Ophadell Williams was so sleep-deprived from working another job that it affected his reflexes as much as if he was intoxicated.

That verdict influenced a Long Island prosecutor's decision this year to drop negligent homicide charges against the truck driver involved in a fatal crash that killed Califano's husband. Ultimately, the truck driver pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge and paid a $500 fine.

"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," said Patrick Bruno, who defended Williams in the bus crash case.

Maureen McCormick, who heads the Nassau County vehicular crimes bureau, explained 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.

"Drowsy driving is something that generally has happened to everyone," McCormick said. "The question is what do we do as a society when that feeling starts to come?"

When McCormick read a statement at the truck driver's sentencing on behalf of Officer Michael Califano's widow, veteran police officers and journalists wiped away tears.

"Michael, Christopher and Andrew now have to grow up without him," McCormick said as Jackie Califano sat in the front row of the courtroom, hugging her sons, 16, 13 and 8. "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."

New Jersey is the only state that has successfully passed legislation addressing drowsy driving, according to Dan Brown, an Atlanta attorney and member of the National Sleep Foundation board of directors. But he noted that "Maggie's Law" doesn't fully solve the problem because prosecutors must show that a driver had been awake for 24 consecutive hours to prove possible recklessness, which is often a difficult proposition.

New Jersey court officials didn't have statistics available on the number of arrests or successful prosecutions since the law was enacted in 2003.

Massachusetts state Sen. Richard Moore said he considered legislation after a constituent's son was killed in a 2002 drowsy driving crash. But, Moore said, "It's not as easy as drunken driving; there's not a good deal of research." Instead, Massachusetts is including early warning tips in driving manuals, and there is an effort to add rumble strips that warn drivers when they are drifting off the road when state highways are resurfaced, he said.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says while sleep is the best cure, drinking two cups of coffee, followed by a 15-to-20-minute nap, can refresh some drivers for a short period of time. Things like turning up the radio volume, singing loudly, chewing gum or eating, and getting out of the car and running around are not effective.

"There's not a way to legislate against sleepiness," said Bruce Hamilton, manager of research and communications at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which instead focuses on public education campaigns and issuing brochures advising on the dangers.

Last summer, drivers in Tennessee's four largest cities saw message boards imploring them to not drive while drowsy, along with a running tally of highway fatalities in that state.

Mark Rosekind, a National Transportation Safety Board member who formerly directed a sleep research center at Stanford University, says it's a pervasive problem that requires a culture change to fix.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study this year that found 4 percent of U.S. adults nodded off or fell asleep at least once while driving in the previous month.

"For some reason people in our culture think it's OK to lose sleep and get behind the wheel," Rosekind said. "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."


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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think the people who text white driving are the real danger...And there are much more of them on the road then sleepy drivers. Every car I see has someone either someone talking or texting...It is truly scary.....What did these people do before cell phones??? There has to be some way to stop this over use of phones while driving.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I drive quite a bit, but in a fairly specific region, so I have mapped out a good many safe spots to pull over and grab a nap. Several times state troopers have asked what I was doing, and _EVERY_ time, when I stated I was getting a nap to be safe on the road - their reply was the functional equivalent of "God Bless you, brother - I wish more drivers did that." I drive a small car, but the devastation it could cause is massive. Nothing is worth that risk - nothing at all.
      • 2 Years Ago
      You cause a crash that is your fault for whatever reason (including mechanical failure--maintain your car) you get to spend some time in jail. Accidents will go WAY down.
      • 2 Years Ago
      In truckers talk, come on back and explain the "new driving" practice. Way back, directionals used to be optional equipment when buying a car. I guess, historically speaking, what goes around comes around.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sure they can. It just depends whether they politicians want to save lives or continue to ignore it to preserve their election chances.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Part of the down side of companies working with less people and more hours. I came up behind a car one day that was swerving back and forth in the lane.( where is a cop when you need one). I moved up beside him expecting to see him talking on the phone or texting. This guy was holding a book across the steering wheel, reading while driving. Thats the worst i've seen.
          • 2 Years Ago
          I've seen them reading newspapers and putting on mascara.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Thie is a real and present danger. As a professional driver I experience this more often than I want to. Driving my personal vehicle brings up another related issue. I have stopped my car before and found a safe place to park and rest. The only problem with doing this is that the when the police find you sleeping in your car, they won't leave you to your rest. I know of one instance here in Texas when a trigger happy cop shot and killed a man who was asleep in his pickup truck and claimed he thought the guy was going for a gun. The man was unarmed.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Not to minimize the results of the actions of the "trigger happy cop" in Texas, but do you have any concept of what the law enforcement officers have to face on a minute-to-minute basis? That dozing driver could just have easily been a heavily armed drug runner, especially if it was in the RGV or the I-35 corridor. Living your professional life like that does take a toll on your senses, perceptions and nerves. How many more times have the officers been killed by kooks and perps in that area?
      • 2 Years Ago
      I am sorry that people die from drowsy drivers and it is a societal cause. in this day and age of mass communication people are still in such a hurry to get from point A to point B with such fear of being late or missing an important date that they push themselves beyond the point of safe. Let us all slow down and drive safe enough to let others live. The next time one of your friends, empoyees or family calls in late it just may save a life. As far as court dates allowing someone to call in late would certainly take the pressure off and let them arrive safely.
        • 2 Years Ago
        I once drove to Fla from NY . I was in Roanoke Virginia about 3 in the morning and kept beginning to nod off . I pulled way off the road to nap until daylight . A west Virginia state trooper started beating on my car with a flashlight and asked me what the hell i thought I was doing . I explained that I was falling asleep at the wheel and needed to pull over before I caused a wreck . His response to me was " Not on my goddamn interstate you ain't and made me get back on the road . So pulling off the road must be illegal in Virginia ?
          • 2 Years Ago
          It's illegal to pull off the side of the road, it's a danger to traffic. If you drove through Roanoke, then you were probably on I-81. There are plenty of places to get off the highway and rest. Gas stations, McDonalds, rest areas. I've driven that route many times
          • 2 Years Ago
          Never, EVER stop on the side of the road to sleep, it's a great way to die and/or kill someone else. Always find a rest area, restaurant or even just an overpass onramp to pull into.
          • 2 Years Ago
          I hope you got that idiot cop's number and reported him!, but I will say this, you would have been better off, pulling off at an exit, and take a snooze in the gas station parking lot or a donut shop! Could've woke up, grabbed a bite to eat, and a cup, used the john, and drove safely to your destination.
      • 2 Years Ago
      When I was a police officer I was always instructed to stop when people were parked and sleeping on the side of the road. I always thought I was sending someone into a ditch or another car. I'm sure this still happens in many area. This is for sure where some of the blame is congered up. Not sure faster speeds would help. A driver would just stay on the roar just as many hours, speed it self aids in boredom and drowsiness, as there is less opportunity to enjoy the surroundings, thus bored with the drive.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Years ago, I talked myself out of taking a job as a long distance driver. I knew that someday I would fall asleep and kill many people...so I didn't do it.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I worked at a newspaper and had put in a full Saturday shift printing the Sunday morning edition which finished at 2 am. I wasn't highly paid so I also delivered a rural newspaper route after my shift. Weekdays was not so tough, but those Sunday mornings were murder (maybe a pun there). I can only say that it was a good thing it was 4 in the morning as I had one highway stretch of deliveries to make and there was no traffic. Next thing I knew I was on the shoulder, not paved and bumpy. Woke me up just in time to make it back to the road safely. I went back later and saw that where this happened was the only place I could have veered off without hitting road signs and mailboxes etc. I was lucky. I always took a nap before making those deliveries after that. Sometimes, the desire to make it home early in spite of the danger can ruin your life or the lives of others.
      • 2 Years Ago
      yep,you can't tell when someone will nod off unless they had a alarm in the car like they do in some semi trucks.http://www.amazon.com/Generic-Nap-Zapper-Anti-Sleep-Alarm/dp/B000BK4KW8
      • 2 Years Ago
      While serving in the U.S. Army during 1979, I driving an ambulance in a convoy. We'd been woken up very early that fateful morning and I drove very drowsily behind another vehicle. At some point during this Army routine I fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the vehicle ahead of me. It was a costly experience for me and the fellow soldier on my passenger side whom had also fallen asleep. We both had to pay $300 a piece for a bent front bumper to a Vietnam era ambulance. That was a lot of money at the time.
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