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Highway Safety Forum: Awake, Alert, Alive: Overcoming the Dangers of Drowsy Driving - Closing Statement
Mark R. Rosekind, PhD
Washington, DC

Thank you Dr. Molloy and Dr. Price, and all of the NTSB staff who helped create such an excellent program today.
In closing, I also would like to thank all of our panelists for sharing their knowledge about fatigue and its effects on driving from a broad range of perspectives. Our closing panel on next steps provided some particularly compelling insights on how we can reduce the number of drowsy driving crashes on our roadways.
Before concluding, I would like to highlight some of the big take aways from what we heard today.
One is the sheer scope, diversity, and complexity of the problem. Clearly, drowsy driving incidents are underestimated and there is no question we need better data, including much better information on the causal factors contributing to drowsy driving.
Also, we need better information on the great scope and diversity of drowsy driving causes specifically because this is such a difficult issue to deal with. You name it, everything from inaccurate perceptions of being sleepy behind the wheel, to its increased risks for young drivers, to the daunting task of designing countermeasures for a multi-faceted nation of drivers with an epidemic sleep debt.
Lastly, we have a long and ambitious list of next steps including the development of targeted individual strategies with effective countermeasures, roadway design and construction that acknowledges the urgent risks associated with fatigued-driving emergencies, the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, and the organizational implementation of effective drowsy driving programs. All of this taken together head on, comprehensively, must lead to a fundamental change in American culture.
The bottom line, there is no magic bullet.
It is clear that in order to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the road every year we have to start to think about impairment more comprehensively. This begins with sleep. Sleep is foundational to our very biology as human beings and our ability to function. Other forms of impairment can be exacerbated when our basic requirement for sleep is disrupted.
Drowsy driving habits are deeply rooted in an American culture that associates sleeplessness with the virtue of hard work. Benjamin Franklin writes in his “Autobiography,” “There will be sleeping enough in the grave.” How many times have we heard someone say something similar, implying that he or she doesn’t need or have time for sleep?
Franklin made his statement over 220 years ago and it is still used today, sometimes as a badge of honor. The modern version is, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” In today’s culture, with so many of us traveling by car on roads or highways, mixing sleep loss with driving is a deadly combination.
It has taken too many lives lost too many decades and considerable effort including laws, high-visibility enforcement, and education to advance public awareness about the perils of drinking and driving.
Once it was all too common to hear “one for the road.” Today we’re more likely to hear “friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” But this is not the case with drowsy driving – an impairment every bit as dangerous that also has cost too many lives and caused too many injuries.
The time is long overdue to address the risks of drowsy driving, to engage in a national discourse on the problem, and to advance a public safety agenda that will make all of us safer on the road.
We have to be awake and alert to drive and stay alive.
We stand adjourned.