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Drowsy Driving Causes 1,500 U.S. Deaths Yearly

September 15, 2004

Fatigue contributes to more than 100,000 police-reported highway crashes, causing 71,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year in the United States alone, according to the National Sleep Foundation.All states - except Alabama - have existing laws where drivers who cause a crash or fatality after falling asleep at the wheel can be punished. In 2003, New Jersey went a step further: It passed a law that specifically addressed drowsy driving, making it a crime to drive in the Garden State while sleepy. The statute - known as Maggie's Law after a 20-year-old college student killed in 1997 by a van driver who had been awake for 30 hours - mandates charges of vehicular homicide, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and a fine of $100,000. Similar laws are also in the works for New York, Michigan and Massachusetts, according to the NSF.People with sleep apnea are more than five times as likely to have a car accident than other drivers traveling the same streets, said Dr. John McBurney, medical director for the Center for Disorders of Sleep and Fatigue in Spartanburg, S.C.Driving after being up for a 24-hour period can be similar to driving under the influence of alcohol, says Michael Middleton, director of Troy Beaumont Sleep Evaluation Services. The best medicine for drowsy drivers? Quit fighting the fatigue. Pull over and take a break, either for the night or for a nap. Caffeine, in moderation, can also be an ally.
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