Drowsy Driving

Colorado's roads are among the deadliest in the U.S. when it comes to drivers succumbing to a dangerous habit: drifting off to sleep behind the wheel.

The family of one victim and some highway officials say the problem calls for more education. They hope to awaken the public's awareness about drowsy driving.

Colorado ranks high in the percentage of people killed by motorists who fell asleep while driving.

In 2004, 54 people died in 49 fatigue-related accidents in Colorado, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That represents 8 percent of the 594 fatal crashes in Colorado in 2004 - more than double the national average of 3 percent.

Colorado, along with Texas and Maine, had the sixth-highest percentage of fatal drowsy driving accidents in the country. Wyoming led the nation with 13 percent.

The results can be instantaneous - and irreversible.

Cyclist Scott Kornfield, 28, was killed in the early morning hours on Memorial Day last year when he was struck by a Boulder teenager who fell asleep at the wheel on U.S. 36 near Broomfield while returning from a late-night party.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody in America who has never dozed off for even a fraction of a second behind the wheel, and yet that's all it takes to have something disastrous happen," Kornfield's father, Gary, said recently. "I don't think it's something my wife and I really thought about until our son was killed."

The federal government has conservatively estimated that about 100,000 crashes a year are caused by driver fatigue, resulting in 71,000 people being injured and 1,500 fatalities. But safety officials said those figures are probably low because of the difficulty of determining fatigue as the cause of an accident, especially when alcohol or other factors are involved.

"The statistics undoubtedly underestimate the true nature of the problem," said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "Drowsy driving, definitely, is one of the largest and less appreciated problems in traffic safety."

Tim Harris, Gov. Bill Owens' highway safety representative, said that while the figures on drowsy driving deaths in Colorado are significant, state funding is focused on seat belt use and drunken driving.

Harris and other traffic officials aren't sure why Colorado ranked high in such crashes, although the state's rural character could be a factor.

National studies show that the problem is widespread.

Sixty percent of respondents involved in a 2005 National Sleep Foundation survey said they had driven when they felt drowsy during the past year and 37 percent said they had actually fallen asleep at the wheel.

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