AAA Mid-Atlantic is warning drivers to be extra mindful on Monday after Daylight Saving Time kicks in.
The annual scheduled clock hopping is happening on Sunday (March 11), “springing forward” an hour starting at 2 a.m.
Only 31.9 percent of Washingtonians get seven hours of sleep per night, according to AAA, and it can take two weeks for the body to adjust to the time turning.
Even losing one hour’s sleep can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm enough to cause damage. Health risks include strokes, heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, and workplace- or traffic-related accidents.
Drowsy driving in particular is a concern in AAA’s eyes citing the “major threat on area roadways Monday” morning and calling it “one of the most underreported traffic safety issues.”
The automotive organization’s warning points to its own drowsy driving research.
Remarkably, the percentage of crashes involving drowsiness is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates indicate, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues. The new research provides an unprecedented analysis of in-vehicle dashcam video from more than 700 crashes, confirming that the danger of drowsy driving soars above official estimates. This weekend, millions of drivers will have difficulty springing forward. Come Monday, the prevalence of short sleep will loom large.
In the study, researchers examined video of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash.
Using a scientific measure linking the percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed to their level of drowsiness, the researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness. Federal estimates indicate drowsiness is a factor in only one to two percent of crashes.
Even so, 35 percent of drivers in the United States sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In a recent related AAA Foundation survey, nearly all drivers (96 percent) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.
Drowsy driving warning signs include struggling to keep your eyes open, lane drifting, and not remembering the last few miles driven.
To avoid drowsy driving, AAA recommends drivers travel when they normally would travel, avoid heavy foods and other sleep-inducing medications, and, for longer trips, schedule breaks every two hours for every 100 miles driven with an alert passenger who can take turns driving.
Photo via Flickr/David Giambarresi
A Fairlington woman is honoring the anniversary of her sister’s passing in a unique way.
Jennifer Pearce lost her sister Nicole seven years ago in a car crash caused by drowsy driving. The driver of the car Nicole was in fell asleep and ran off the side of the road in West Virginia. Nicole, who was wearing her seat belt, died in the hospital.
To honor her memory, Pearce — along with family and friends — hid over a hundred smiley-face painted rocks around Fairlington last night, and hundreds more around the D.C. area and beyond.
Pearce says raising awareness about drowsy driving has become a life mission.
“We have been very proactive about trying to get awareness awareness, my family will go to 95 and different rest stops and hand out coffee,” said Pearce. “I started doing this because the days just suck. My sister was such a bright and shiny happy person and it was so counter intuitive to try and live that way when your heart was broken.”
According to a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association, there are an estimated 6,400 deaths per year from people nodding off while driving, with more than 50 percent of drowsy driving crashes involving drivers who are 25 years old or younger.
For the past four years, Jennifer has given away small tokens on her sister’s birthday.
“We started with filling up mylar balloons and we would just hand them out to strangers. Smiley faces were her thing and it’s become sort of a holiday that’s brought back her spirit.”
She gave away smiley face balloons because smiley faces were Nicole’s favorite. This year she’s doing something different and has painted about 700 smiley face rocks that have been hidden all over the D.C. area — “and way beyond including Paris, South America and many other states and cities,” she said in a Facebook post.
Many were placed throughout north and south Fairlington, where Pearce lives.
“I hid a hundred rocks in Fairlington, I tried to hide some that were a little easier for kids, there were some I randomly put on car door handles, I hid some in the crevices of tree bases and near the pools, the tennis courts, the dog park, they’re kind of everywhere,” said Pearce.
“My staff is out at the zoo today and we’re going to Georgetown for lunch so they’ll be there. Whoever finds them, what they do with them or why they might need them that day is totally between them and the universe.”
If you happen to come across one of the smiley face rocks, comment on Nicole’s Facebook post with a picture of it.
More information about Nicole and the impact of drowsy driving can be found on a website created in her memory.
Malvar died in a skateboarding accident in June. Police say the 18-year-old was hanging on to the driver’s side window frame of his friend’s pickup truck when he lost his balance and fell, hitting his head on the pavement. Malvar succumbed to his injuries a few hours later. Students held a candlelight vigil in his memory.
The driver was later charged with reckless driving and pleaded guilty earlier this fall. At a juvenile court sentencing yesterday afternoon, a judge sentenced the teen to serve a weekend in juvenile detention. He was also placed on probation; ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and attend a victim awareness program; and had his drivers license revoked for 6 months and a $500 fine imposed.
The man was in a rental car with his wife and kids when he drove northbound onto the trail at Columbia Pike, according to Arlington police spokesman Lt. Mike Watson. After receiving numerous calls from trail users, a police officer on a motorcycle caught up with the vehicle, a Chrysler 300 sedan, in Glencarlyn Park.
According to Watson, the man claimed that a GPS navigation system on his phone directed him to use the trail. The Florida resident was issued a court summons for reckless driving and was escorted off the trail and back onto local roads, Watson told ARLnow.com.
While trying to catch up with the errant driver, police officers marveled at the fact that he didn’t realize he was driving on a bike trail.
“He must think it’s the world’s smallest two-lane highway,” one said on a police radio channel. No one was hurt during the incident.
Also last month, gates were installed on the Capital Crescent Trail in Northwest D.C. to prevent drivers from mistaking it for a road. No such gate was in place where the man entered the W&OD trail yesterday.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Police have charged a teen involved in a skateboarding accident leading to the death of 18-year-old Washington-Lee High School student John Malvar earlier this month.
Police did not release the name of the 17-year-old Washington-Lee High School student, but said he was charged with reckless driving. Police say he was driving a truck while Malvar rode his skateboard and held on to the driver’s side window frame.
The accident happened on the 300 block of S. Highland Street. Malvar died from injuries he sustained after he lost his balance and fell, hitting his head on the pavement.
Today the 17-year-old appeared before a judge in Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, where the charges were formally brought against him. He was released into the custody of a parent and will go to trial on August 8.
On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of all cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. The proposed ban would even apply to hands-free devices, like talking on a cell phone via a Bluetooth headset.
Using a hand-held cell phone while driving is perfectly legal in Virginia. That’s in contrast with D.C., which requires that drivers use a hands-free device. Virginia does ban texting while driving, but it’s considered a secondary offense, meaning that you must be violating another traffic law in order for the police to pull you over and give you a citation.
The only exception to those rules is for school bus drivers, for whom it is a primary offense to use a cell phone, and for drivers younger than 18, for whom all cell phone use is banned.
Would you support a more comprehensive cell phone ban in Virginia?
An 18-year-old Arlington man has pleaded guilty to reckless driving after a crash that killed a 28-year-old woman and her dog near Washington-Lee High School.
Joseph DiFilippo pleaded guilty in Arlington General District Court on Aug. 25, prosecutors say. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, but the entirety of the jail term was suspended on the condition of good behavior and the completion of 200 hours of community service. DiFilippo is also required to speak about his actions before monthly driver’s license presentation ceremonies held at the Arlington County courthouse. Additionally, his driver’s license was suspended six months, the maximum allowed by state law.
“Pursuant to a plea agreement, three other traffic infractions were dismissed,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jennifer Clarke. She noted that DiFilippo had a valid driver’s license at the time of the accident, despite an initial charge of driving without a license.
Members of the victim’s family were present at the sentencing hearing, and testified about how the accident impacted their lives, Clarke said.
The accident occurred around 7:30 a.m. on Monday, April 11, as 28-year-old Arlington resident Alison Drucker was walking her dog across the Quincy Street Bridge. A statement of facts was not entered as part of the plea, but after the accident police said that a pickup truck driven by DiFilippo struck Drucker and her dog, Buckley, as the truck was traveling northbound on Quincy Street. The dog died at the scene and Drucker suffered a serious head injury. She died in the hospital two weeks later.
Prosecutors say the plea deal’s lack of jail time was a reflection of the evidence in the case.
“The charge brought against the defendant and the plea agreement which was reached was based upon extensive consideration of the evidence. Some cases are stronger than others and we are limited by the unique facts and evidence of each case,” Clarke said. “After consideration of the facts of this case, the case law which has interpreted and applied the Virginia reckless driving statute, and our burden of proof, we concluded that the plea agreement was appropriate.”
“As prosecutors, our decisions must be based upon the law and the evidence,” Clarke added. “However, as people, our hearts go out to the Alison Drucker’s family. The plea agreement should in no way be seen as a reflection of the great sympathy we have for the Drucker family and the loss which they have suffered.”