Quick: What causes 1,550 traffic fatalities, 71,000 crash-related injuries and $12.5 billion in damages each year?* Drunk driving? Not exactly. Try drowsy
by Paula Patch

Quick: What causes 1,550 traffic fatalities, 71,000
crash-related injuries and $12.5 billion in damages each year?*
Drunk driving? Not exactly. Try drowsy driving. Never heard
of it? Well, chances are you have experienced it.

According to a 1999 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 62
percent of all adults surveyed had driven a car while feeling
drowsy. More than a quarter of those polled admitted they had
actually dozed off while driving, and 23 percent said they knew
someone who had experienced a “fall-asleep” automobile

So, wake up: This is a big deal. Among the risk factors for
drowsy driving is an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder, such
as obstructive sleep apnea. According to the National Sleep
Foundation, OSA is associated with a three-to-seven times increase
in automobile crash risk. And, consider that the Federal Motor
Carrier Safety Administration found 28 percent of commercial truck
drivers they surveyed had OSA ranging from mild to severe. That
means a quarter of the big rigs passing by you on the highway are
driven by potentially drowsy drivers.

To reduce the number of people affected by drowsy driving, NSF
launched the “Drive Alert … Arrive Alive”
campaign, which includes such resources as a national clearinghouse
for use by researchers and the general public, a national speakers
bureau, educational materials, advocacy efforts and state and
national programs. One of these national programs is the National
Summit to Prevent Drowsy Driving, which was held in Washington,
D.C., last November. Longmont-Colo.-based Sunrise Medical's
DeVilbiss division was a co-sponsor of the summit.

“Many [people] gathered from across a host of different
areas to begin to prioritize different efforts that could begin to
make America more aware of the risks of and the actions that can be
taken to prevent drowsy driving,” says Carey Winkel, senior
vice president of global planning, marketing and communications for
Sunrise. “Drowsy driving has statistically been proven to be
as dangerous as drunk driving. As we step back and ask ourselves if
we have or if we know someone who has dozed while driving —
and then can imagine the result of this action — it becomes
more important to listen to our bodies telling us that
‘sleep’ and ‘sleepiness’ is something we
should pay attention to.

“If we can support getting this message out —
understanding undiagnosed sleep disorders like OSA, getting
treatment and then being compliant — we can save lives. It is
that simple,” Winkel states.

With manufacturers on the sleep bandwagon (ResMed and
Respironics sponsor other NSF programs), providers can jump on,
too. When you provide a patient with a CPAP or other sleep-disorder
device, send educational materials home with the patient as well.
The NSF Web site, www.sleepfoundation.org, is a good place to start.

In addition, get to know your local sleep center. The NSF has
Community Sleep Awareness Partners across the United States.
According to the NSF, CSAPs are “health care providers
committed to promoting public understanding of sleep and sleep
disorders, and supporting sleep-related education, research and
advocacy to improve public health and safety in their
communities.” A list of CSAPS is available at www.sleepfoundation.org/site99.html.

*Statistics based on 1996 National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration estimates.