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The dangers of drowsy driving

You've likely heard about the dangers of distracted driving, especially among teens and younger drivers. You almost certainly are aware of the dangers of drunk driving. But you may not be aware that the cause behind one-fifth of all fatal accidents in America involves a third "d" - drowsy driving.

Is driving when overly tired as dangerous as driving impaired?

It sometimes seems as though Colorado is the focal point on many discussions regarding impaired driving. With prescription pain medication use - and abuse - still a problem in Denver, and marijuana legalization still a hot-button issue across the country, impaired driving in Colorado has seen its share of national attention on the matter.

Currently, under Colorado Law, drivers with five nanograms of THC in their blood can be prosecuted for DUI. As in every state, any driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater is presumed too intoxicated to drive.

But there is no test to measure whether a driver is too tired to operate a vehicle safely. While certainly reckless or inattentive drivers can receive a ticket, there is no similar gauge to judge when a driver is too tired to safely operate a vehicle.

Drowsy driving causes nearly as many accidents as drunk driving

The extent of drowsy driving on America's roadways is shocking. According to a study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, between 2009 and 2013, about 20 percent of all fatal accidents involved fatigued driving. In the years studied, almost 3,000 fatal accidents occurred because of drowsy driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in three fatal crashes involve alcohol. Of course, it is also possible that both alcohol and fatigue can be factors in a car accident. As a depressant, alcohol can increase fatigue, even if the driver is not over the legal limit.

Ultimately, safety is about judgment

Laws can help curb unsafe driving habits. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the person behind the wheel to judge when they can safely operate a vehicle. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes an accident before a driver truly understands how dangerous fatigued driving can be.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has attempted to increase awareness of the issue in recent years. Hopefully, as people become aware of the dangers of drowsy driving, the risk on our roadways will decrease. In the meanwhile, people who do suffer injury because of a drowsy driver have legal options available to help with recovery and hold the driver accountable.

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