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Remarks at the National Sleep Foundation for National Sleep Awareness Week, Washington, DC
Jim Hall
National Sleep Foundation for National Sleep Awareness Week, Washington, DC

Good morning, Congressman Nethercutt, Dr. Holland, Ms. Cullen, Mr. Burris, Dr. Carskadon, ladies and gentlemen. It was very important to me to accept this invitation to participate in this press conference today. Not just as the Chairman of the NTSB, although that certainly is reason enough for me to be here since the Board has highlighted the importance of fatigue as a safety issue for over 10 years. But I have personal reasons to be here as well.

Warren Mackey is my racquetball buddy and a good friend in my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is a great father and his son Warren Mackey II was one of the most promising basketball recruits in the Chattanooga area. On January 4, 1998, young Warren stood 6'4", 220 pounds, and was still growing. A junior at Chattanooga Central High School, he was already being recruited by some of the top colleges in our area.

Warren's dad ran a tight ship at home; but over the 1997 Christmas holiday, he let young Warren set his own schedule. After several late nights out with his friends, on Saturday night, January 3rd, Warren didn't go to bed until 3:30 a.m., Sunday morning. At 7 a.m. he got up to go to church, where he sang in the choir, with his family. He left his church to go to his girlfriend's church service, then to her house in Ringold, GA for Sunday dinner, and then back home. Later, Warren's dad and his girlfriend would remember Warren nodding off in church - something he never did. That evening, Warren ran his truck off a country road on his way home and hit a tree - killing him. The required tox tests revealed what all of Warren's friends knew - there were no drugs or alcohol in his system. Warren had gone to sleep at the wheel - another victim of drowsy driving.

Someone else got Warren's basketball scholarship, but his parents, Warren and Cheryl, are doing all they can to tell his story and honor his memory with a scholarship fund at his high school.

I wanted to remember Warren by telling his story today. So, that's one of the reasons I thank you for inviting me to be here today to help kick off the third annual National Sleep Awareness Week. This is an important event because it raises the public's - and the media's - awareness about the need for adequate rest and the detrimental consequences of sleep deprivation.

The problems associated with fatigue permeate our whole society, from our very youngest citizens to our oldest, and it exacts a heavy toll on our safety, productivity, and quality of life. As your poll and our investigations show, no one is exempt from the effects of too little sleep.

This issue has been of great concern to the National Transportation Safety Board for more than a quarter of a century. In fact, operator fatigue has been on the Safety Board's "Most Wanted" list since the list's inception in 1990, and, over the years, we have made almost 100 recommendations on this critical issue. One of my first acts as Chairman was to convene a worldwide symposium addressing the effects of fatigue on safety in our transportation system.

The Safety Board, in its role as the eyes and ears of the American public at accident sites, has seen the catastrophic consequences that can result from an operator's fatigued condition. We have found fatigue to be a causal or contributing factor in crashes in every mode of transportation - including aircraft crashes, train wrecks, pipeline explosions, highway crashes, and ship incidents.

As your poll confirmed, human fatigue is one of the most endemic safety issues in our society and one that has yet to be adequately addressed. Eleven years ago, the Safety Board issued recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation that asked the department to:

· Conduct research on operator fatigue in all modes of travel;

· Educate people about fatigue; and

· Revise the hours-of-service regulations in all transportation modes.

Since the Board issued those recommendations, a vast amount of research has been conducted, much of it by many of you here today, on fatigue, sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, and the factors that can affect fatigue, such as duration and quality of sleep, shiftwork and work schedules, circadian rhythms, and time of day.

We've also made great strides in educating our citizens about the dangers of fatigue. Organizations, agencies, and industry groups - such as the National Sleep Foundation, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and the American Trucking Associations - have worked together to develop educational brochures to inform individuals about the need for sleep and to dispel the myths surrounding fatigue and its effects. And, I'm pleased to see that those efforts are continuing and expanding.

Yet, despite all of these research and educational endeavors, we have not seen them translated into meaningful changes in the hours-of-service regulations in any transportation mode. What we have seen is a lot of activity - notices of proposed rulemakings issued and committees and working groups formed - and reformed - to examine changes to the regulations. But, we still haven't seen any real progress to provide scientifically-based operating rules. The time for research is over. We already know - and have repeatedly proven - that the current rules giving operators eight hours off duty - is insufficient. It does not give individuals a sufficient period of time to get the necessary seven or eight hours of sleep.

As a result, last year, the Safety Board again asked DOT to require the modal administrations to modify their regulations to establish scientifically-based hours-of-service regulations that set limits on hours of service, provide predictable work and rest schedules, and consider circadian rhythms and human sleep and rest requirements.

Because of DOT's inaction to revise the hours-of-service regulations, the Safety Board has encouraged the rest of the transportation community to take the lead in fighting fatigue-related accidents by implementing solutions that are already available. Let me briefly mention just a few examples of what can be done:

· First, install on-board data recorders on every vehicle. These devices are necessary to enforce hours-of-service violations, identify safety trends, develop corrective actions, and conduct more efficient accident investigations.

· Second, authorize strategic napping. Research, including the National Sleep Foundation's poll, has shown that short naps of 20 to 40 minutes can be beneficial. Operators should be encouraged to integrate napping into their driving schedules.

· Third, restructure work schedules. Industry can develop schedules that allow operators to obtain at least eight hours of continuous sleep and that keep them on a regular schedule and routine.

I want to congratulate the sponsors of this third annual National Sleep Awareness Week for their tireless efforts to bring much needed attention to this critical issue. We are making progress to eliminate fatigue in the workplace and throughout the transportation community - much of it thanks to your efforts. But, as we all know, more needs to be done to educate everyone about the need for adequate sleep - or we wouldn't be here today.

Thank you, again, for inviting me to be here today.