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AAA Study: Drowsy Driving Can Be As Dangerous As Drunk Driving

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BRIDGEVILLE (KDKA) -- The snow was blowing sideways as Mark Ivan pulled his Pitt Ohio big rig out of the Bridgeville rest area on I-79 and headed south.

Ivan has been behind the wheel for Pitt Ohio for almost three decades and he recognizes the hazards ahead on the road.

"Drowsy driving looks a lot like drunk driving," he says.

A point echoed on Thursday by safety officers and first responders in the wake of a new reports from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The foundation used on-board cameras in vehicles of volunteers to watch their actions as they went about their daily driving routines. What they found was a crash rate by drowsy drivers eight times greater than previously thought.

In fact, the number of drowsy driving crashes boils down to about 10 percent of all crashes.

While drowsy driving is being compared to having the same impact as DUI, there is a major difference.

DUI requires consumption of something to become under the influence. Drowsy can happen to anyone at any time. The only requirement a lack of rest. There can be contributing factors such as illness, or medications, but a lack of sleep is the root cause.

You know the signs, nodding off, can't get comfortable in the car's seat, lack of concentration, gripping the wheel harder and leaning towards the windshield just to name a few.

But here's one you may have experienced and not recognized as a sign of getting drowsy. You are driving along and suddenly have no memory of the last few miles or the last few minutes. That "How did I get here?" moment, or you missed your exit.

Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Frank Lewis does motor vehicle enforcement and says the issue of drowsy drivers is most critical behind the wheel of a big rig.

"Once they become drowsy, their chances of crashing a commercial vehicle are much greater than a personal car," said Trooper Lewis.

Commercial drivers have to keep logs of rest times, and newer electronic logging devises help keep track of required breaks without the "fudging" of paper logs of the past.

"It does the thinking for you," says Ivan. "It will remind you when to take a break, not that you should need that, but it's almost like having a passenger with you that says, 'Hey, I'm helping you watch.'"

The experts say the main things to remember is the biological needs of your body for rest will ultimately override all efforts to thwart it. If that happens while the wheels are in motion, the results can be catastrophic.

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