As the problem of drowsy driving becomes more of a hazard on the road, the National Sleep Foundation takes action.

While thinking of dangerous driving conditions on the road, it might be true that drowsy driving takes a backseat to drunk driving. But drowsy driving, which causes more than 100,000 police-reported crashes per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has become an issue so serious that the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is creating legislation to tackle the crisis.

This week, the Drowsy Driving Reduction Act of 2015 will be distributed to the House and Senate transportation chairs in every state.

David G. Davila, MD, of the Baptist Health Sleep Clinic-Center in Little Rock, Ark, and an NSF board member, says the goal of the legislation is to introduce a more systematic, nuanced, and comprehensive approach to the problem of drowsy driving on a state-by-state basis.

“The response to drowsy driving from stakeholders has varied from low level curiosity to draconian,” he says. “Sleep practitioners have long appreciated the high prevalence of drowsy driving [DD] in our clinic populations and have tried to warn our individual patients of the risks of DD in terms of the risks for motor vehicle crashes. We at NSF and others have aroused some interest in federal policy makers who have gathered some likely under-estimates of the prevalence of the problem.”

Davila says that while research about drowsy driving is improving, awareness of it in forums like drivers’ education classes hasn’t been great. Meanwhile, research shows that 20% of car crashes are associated with driver sleepiness and nearly 1 in 3 of all Americans admit they frequently drive drowsy.

“Drowsy driving is a crisis that needs to be addressed,” says David Cloud, CEO of the NSF. “We’ve seen tremendous energy and attention devoted to drunk and distracted driving, but we are asleep at the wheel on drowsy driving.”

The Reduction Act calls for the development of a statewide task force to study the prevalence of drowsy driving, evaluate current laws, regulations, and enforcement, and provide recommendations on advancing road safety.

Part of the problem, according to Davila, is that while sleep clinicians understand very well the hazards of drowsy driving, many people don’t take it seriously enough and don’t understand that it can be dangerous.

“Many…may underestimate it and/or the risk when behind the wheel,” he says. “The general public probably has a poor overall understanding of DD, although many when questioned will often recall experiencing an episode themselves or in someone they know.”

The NSF has taken action to educate people about the issues of drowsy driving with campaigns about the issue. While some states have laws to punish people after-the-fact of a driving incident, “we at NSF feel it would be better for states to be proactive on this problem,” says Davila.

A.J. Zak is an associate editor at Sleep Review. CONTACT [email protected]