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NHTSA Announces Plans to Crack Down on Drowsy Driving

Believed to cause around 72,000 crashes annually.

At a speech yesterday in Chicago, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator Mark Rosekind said his agency will focus efforts on reducing drowsy driving. The announcement comes as NHTSA reports that drunk driving has declined 21 percent in the U.S. since 2003, seatbelt use has increased to 87 percent, and distracted-driving fatalities fell 6.7 percent from 2012 to 2013.

“What we do know is that, while not everybody drinks, or texts, or speeds, lack of sleep is a problem we all face. And falling asleep at the wheel at 70 mph is a recipe for tragedy,” Rosekind said.

Although he did not offer many specifics, Rosekind said that NHTSA will gather more data on the causes and prevalence of drowsy or tired driving, launch public awareness campaigns about the risks of driving while tired, and evaluate whether legal or technical solutions will have the biggest impact.

“We’re going to comprehensively examine the role that driver aids, in the car and outside of it, can play,” Rosekind said. “Everything from high-tech solutions like computer algorithms that detect when you’re getting sleepy behind the wheel, to old standbys like rumble strips on the road.”

In a 2011 report, NHTSA said that drowsy driving causes between 2.2 and 2.6 percent of all fatal crashes on U.S. roadways, contributing to as many as 72,000 crashes overall each year. In that report, NHTSA said drowsy-driving accidents were likely significantly under-reported, in part because the agency says only about half of drowsy-driving cases are actually confirmed as such. A 2013 Centers for Disease Control study also found that four percent of drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel.