Opinion

Sleep deprived drivers can kill

Seven years ago, I sped across the I-90 Bridge to Harborview Medical Center.  As I did, I begged for God to take my life, “Take Me instead. Not Her!”

Fifteen minutes before, my wife Mary Beth and I had received the phone call that every parent dreads.  Our seventeen-year old daughter Mora was in the emergency room at Harborview Medical Center.  All we knew was that she had been in a terrible car accident, and that her condition was critical.  Like any parent, I bargained and begged aloud for God to spare the life of my child.

We found out soon afterward, the accident was caused by the driver of the car she was riding in, who fell asleep at the wheel.

That day and the months and yes, the years that followed, have led in part to the proclamation by Governor Jay Inslee that Nov. 11-17 is Washington State Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.  We can’t think of a better way to get our story — and those of others harmed by a sleepy driver out in front of the public.

Since those dark days, I’ve told our story about drowsy driving - over and over again.  And I will continue to do so until people take drowsy driving seriously.

That frantic trip across I-90 was just one of the moments from that harrowing time that are seared in to my psyche.  Memories of terrible moments like that are what push my family and I in our mission to talk about the dangers of drowsy driving:

The sadness in the doctor’s eyes three days later as she took my wife and I over to a private corner after the morning consult was over. She told us that the trauma team was very disheartened. After being in a coma for three days, Mora’s brain was not showing any signs of response.

When we said it looked like Mora would not make it, our family closed around us in an elemental circle of love and shared anguish.  Defiantly, my mother said, “Well, we’ll just have to pray even harder!”

The disbelief and anger we felt when we were told by the Washington State Patrol trooper that the driver of the car Mora was a passenger in had been awake for more than twenty hours before she got behind the wheel.  That she fell asleep while driving along U.S. 97, over Blewett Pass.

Or Mora’s first words over a month later — whispered in pain and agony, trapped in a full body cast and an injured brain were, “I hate this.”

Or three months later, when she was an eighteen-year old woman, taking her first baby step. For once without crutches, wheelchairs, scooters, or even a guiding hand.

We cannot give Mora back the years that were taken away from her, or the pain that she continues to deal with. But we can try to spare others from suffering terrible, life-changing injuries like hers.  And to prevent more easily avoidable deaths from drowsy driving.

Half of our mission is to promote drowsy driving awareness and prevention through education. In print, online, and on television, we have warned about the dangers of drowsy driving. We have shouted about it from the rooftops, and in our state legislature’s House Judiciary Committee. But prevention and education goes only half way. For as with drunk driving forty years ago and wearing seat belts twenty years ago, perceptions about and laws and penalties against drowsy driving need to be changed.

If a person gets behind the wheel of a car that has not slept for 20-24 hours and causes an injury or death, there should be serious consequences to their actions, and added teeth to the current reckless driving laws.

Before others are injured or killed by drowsy drivers, we urge our legislators to seriously look at tougher penalties and fines if a driver causes injury of death after falling asleep while behind the wheel of a car.

Mora has miraculously defied all the medical odds, and is living her amazing life.  But others have not been so ‘lucky’. If one person getting behind the wheel of a car thought first and took a nap, Mora’s life and many others like her would have been different.  Others lives would have been saved.

Seven years later, as our Governor proclaims Nov. 11-17 Washington State Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, the Shaw family will continue to make noise about drowsy driving and its consequences.

And we will never forget.

 

 

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