THE holiday season is about to begin, and law enforcement agencies here and across the country will be stepping up efforts to promote responsible and safe driving.
While the focus will remain on reducing drunken and distracted driving, there's another cause for preventable crashes that deserves attention.
A recent report by Stateline highlights a 2014 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that estimated that drowsy drivers could be involved in 328,000 crashes a year on average on U.S. roads, 6,400 of them fatal.
However, the report said, those numbers may be higher because data collected by police at crash scenes is incomplete, and there is no universal definition or standard wording for drowsiness or fatigue on crash reports.
Sleep deprivation is the primary culprit. A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that more than a third of adults in the U.S. aren't getting the seven hours of sleep a day needed for optimal health.
Stateline said that's noteworthy because drowsy drivers' judgment may be impaired and their reaction time slowed, just like with drunken drivers. Their driving often mimics alcohol-impaired driving, with the car weaving between lanes or drifting off the road.
An estimated 168 million people -- about 60 percent of drivers -- admit to being drowsy behind the wheel, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation. Moreover, a third, or 103 million motorists, acknowledged they have fallen asleep at least once while driving.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report found that drivers who miss between one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period nearly double their risk for a crash, and those who miss two to three hours more than quadruple it.
Steps are being taken to address the problem.
Iowa was one of five states this year that received $15,000 grants from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the National Road Safety Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes safe driving.
Stateline points out that Iowa last year hosted the first statewide drowsy driving summit to increase public awareness of the problem. It also broadcasts warnings on highway system message boards, such as "Drowsy? Crash on a Couch Not a Road," runs public service announcements on TV and social media, and has partnered with a local supermarket chain to spread the word with bag stuffers.
This is National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, designed to promote public awareness of a preventable cause for too many fatal crashes.
Drivers know they should not get behind the wheel if they have been drinking, and that they should avoid distractions such as cellphones while driving for their safety and the safety of others.
Likewise, making sure we are well-rested and alert before hitting the road is another necessary precaution to avoid tragedy during this joyous time of year.