Is drowsy driving a crime? That is the question that Maryland prosecutors recently faced.
In August a 19-year-old driver fell asleep behind the wheel. She swerved into oncoming traffic on the Chesapeake Bridge and hit a tractor trailer. The crash turned fatal when the truck plunged into the bay, taking the truck driver’s life.
In December prosecutors decided that they would not press criminal charges against the young woman. Instead she would only be cited for motor vehicle violations. Sleep scientist Dr. Charles Czeisler responded with an editorial in the Washington Post on Jan. 4.
Czeisler argues that drowsy driving should be a criminal offense. He writes that drowsy driving is as deadly as drunk driving. Czeisler urges Maryland to develop drowsy-driving legislation.
Together the AASM and the Sleep Research Society crafted model drowsy-driving legislation. It gives states direction on the issue. The model legislation includes exceptions for drivers who have a sleep disorder.
By all accounts drowsy driving is common. A 2002 Gallup survey found that 37 percent of people reported falling asleep or nodding off at least once while driving. Ten percent of drowsy drivers had driven drowsy in the past month.
It is also common for drowsy driving to be deadly. The U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving is related to more than 1,500 deaths per year.
Yet drowsy driving often goes unreported. Unless the driver admits falling asleep, drowsy driving can be difficult to detect. Czeisler estimates that drowsy-driving crashes take the lives of about 8,000 people in the U.S. each year.
So what do you think? Should it be a crime to drive drowsy?