Executive Summary of the State of the States Report

Drowsy driving is an under-reported and under-recognized public safety issue plaguing America’s roadways. In order to assess how states currently address the issue of drowsy driving and to formulate strategies to further combat driver fatigue, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) has issued its 2008 State of the States Report on Drowsy Driving. The survey was administered to each of the fifty states and Washington, D.C., and covered topics that NSF believes to be at the root of the under-identification of, and the inadequate response to drowsy driving and fall-asleep crashes.

The survey investigated the following: legal provisions used for citing or prosecuting drowsy drivers, police training, physician reporting requirements for medical conditions, curfew provisions in graduated driver’s licensing (GDL) laws, and educational efforts through driver education classes and the state driver’s licensing manuals.

The responses revealed that there is a general awareness of drowsy driving on the state level, but a need for new efforts related to enforcement, education and other prevention efforts. For instance, no states have a law that addresses non-fatal, sleep-related motor-vehicle crashes, and only the State of New Jersey has a specific statute (Maggie’s Law) that criminalizes drowsy driving in a fatal crash. The New Jersey law has done much to raise awareness of fatigue, but has not been widely used due to its very narrow definition of fatigue – a person has to be awake for 24 hours or more.

With regard to data collection, one positive statistic was revealed. All but one state (Missouri) include a code for fatigue or sleepiness on their police crash report form. It is interesting to note that the State of
Missouri had such a code in the past, but removed it recently for an unknown reason. Proper codes for sleep and fatigue are important to collecting accurate data on fatigue-related crashes; however, the value of these codes relies on the officer’s ability to identify the characteristics of such crashes when they occur. To this affect, less than 40% of law enforcement agencies educate their officers on the impact of fatigue on driving performance or proper countermeasures, diminishing the role of any related codes.

Finally, with regard to the driver’s education process, 46 states have graduated driver licensing systems in place with some type of nighttime curfew. Establishing these curfews is now a task for state
governments since young people are the largest at-risk group for fall-asleep crashes due to social schedules and chronic sleep deprivation.

Finally, only 17 states mandate that drowsy driving be taught in driver’s education classes, and only slightly more than half of the states included some related information in their driver’s manuals. It is important to note that NSF reviewed all of the sleep and fatigue information provided in driver licensing manuals and determined that a number of states perpetuate some myths and scientifically inaccurate information regarding drowsy driving countermeasures. NSF believes that it is crucial that accurate information be given to America’s drivers and will follow up with these states to seek changes to their manuals.

Upon receipt of these surveys and the analysis of the data, the National Sleep Foundation urges states to:

• Establish and enforce drowsy driving laws;
• Develop public information and education campaigns aimed at drivers, parents, and employers;
• Increase training on the effects of fatigue for law enforcement officers including prosecutors and the judiciary;
• Establish graduated driver licensing systems with curfews starting at 10:00 pm. This will ensure inexperienced drivers are off of the roads at unsafe times and allow them additional opportunity for sleep;
• Mandate the inclusion of accurate sleep and drowsy driving countermeasure information in driver’s education classes and driver’s manuals.

Read the full report.