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One in 6 Fatal Crashes Involves a Drowsy Driver

Falling asleep at the wheel while driving is more common that we might think, reports CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Forty-one percent of drivers admit to having "fallen asleep or nodded off" at some point in their lives, according to a new survey done by AAA - one in 10 within the last year. More than half of them fell asleep on a highway. And one in six fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver.

"Most people think they can control it, but the research show nearly 60 percent of people fall asleep just an hour into their trip," said Nancy White with AAA.

Nine years ago, Thomas Gallaghy was driving with his wife at 1:30 in the afternoon when he fell asleep and hit a tree. His wife was killed instantly.

"Everybody has periods of drowsiness while driving," Gallaghy said. "What really kills is the belief by the driver that he or she is going to get through it."

Rumble strips that create vibration when the car veers off the road to shake the driver awake were the old-fashioned ways of waking drowsy drivers.

The new-fashioned way: technology that Mercedes Benz puts in some of its cars. Computers monitor drivers' behavior, such as minor steering errors abruptly corrected or how many times a driver crosses in or out of lanes. If the 70-point check system determines it is early stage drowsy driving, an alarm sounds on the instrument panel.

"A big part of it is public education," White said. "People really understanding the problem and stopping the behavior."

That's why AAA is airing public service advertisements - hoping to issue a wake-up call.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.