Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Asleep At The Wheel: NTSB Holds Drowsy Driving Forum

Drowsy Driving was said to contribute to 20 percent of vehicle accidents annually.

(Photo : NTSB) Drowsy Driving was said to contribute to 20 percent of vehicle accidents annually.

For the first time, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week held a wake-up call for American drivers in the form of a drowsy driving forum. Studies indicate one out of five crashes on the road result from drowsy driving, and that sleep deprivation impairs drivers as much as alcohol consumption.

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The daylong forum called "Awake. Alert. Alive." in Washington, D.C. addressed one of the least acknowledged, but most important, driving challenges, which is drivers falling asleep at the wheel. It brought together transportation experts who gave seminars and talks on the research into and dangers of driving while tired. 

The American Automobile Association of America (AAA), says 40 percent of drivers admitted to lapsing into sleep while driving. AAA says 400,000 accidents involving drowsy drivers each year kill 500 people and injure 100,000 others.

Coupled with reaction times diminishing by 20 percent when someone loses just a couple of hours of sleep in a night and sleepy driving becomes very real and truly dangerous, transportation experts said.

Mark Rosekind, an NTSB board member, compared drowsy driving to drunk driving. The impaired driving crisis pertained to "alcohol and drugs, distraction and drowsy or fatigued driving," he said.

Sleep impairment after 24 hours represents the same impairment as a blood-alcohol content above 0.10, the equivalent of a 160-pound person drinking a six-pack of beer over six hours, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Testing continues try to determine how to assess for alertness and make sure people are aware of the dangers. Virginia Tech researchers were using car cameras to watch driver faces for signs of alertness to determine how much a lack of sleep affects driver skills.

New vehicles increasingly are being outfitted with sensors that can sound alarms waking up drivers who have drifted into dreamland.

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