Utah family’s tragedy puts face on study showing dangers of drowsy driving

SALT LAKE CITY -- Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease and Control and AAA, and a Utah father who knows those dangers firsthand is sharing his story.

Drowsy driving is something the Beehive State is familiar with.

John Gleason of the Utah Department of Transportation says there are 1,000 drowsy driving crashes on Utah roads every year that they know about, but there are in all likelihood many more that aren't tallied.

“That is just the tip of the iceberg, because most of these [drowsy driving] crashes go unreported," Gleason said. “There is no breathalyzer for drowsy driving.”

The AAA study reported that about one in five deadly crashes involve a drowsy driver, and driving with less than five hours of sleep quadruples your risk of a crash.

“Especially this time of year, around the holidays people are pushing it to the limit, people are trying to wrap up their last-minute items before they hit the road on a big road trip," Gleason said.

AAA says taking naps can help reduce your risk of becoming drowsy behind the wheel. If you’re on a long trip, they suggest stopping every two hours to take a break.

The study included statistics showing the risk of a crash for tired drivers increased more as the numbers of hours they slept decreased.

  • 1.3 times for six to seven hours of sleep
  • 1.9 times for five to six hours of sleep
  • 4.3 times for four to five hours of sleep
  • 11.5 times for less than four hours of sleep

A Utah father, Ben Fraughton, knows the dangers of driving while drowsy too well. He lost his wife four years ago this week on December 1, 2012 when she fell asleep behind the wheel.

She died, but her five month old son, Kash, was in the back seat and survived. Ben's wife, Kaden Fraughton, was not wearing her seat belt.

“She fell asleep right in the middle of Cedar Fort, and from what the police report said the car rolled three to four times,” Fraughton said.

Kaden was driving from Tooele to Eagle Mountain that morning. She had just dropped off her daughter at her father’s house in Tooele and was on her way back home. It is about a 50 minute drive.

“She had our neighborhood Christmas party the night before, and stayed up late to make the neighborhood and the children snacks the next day," Fraughton said. "I think she went to bed at 3 a.m. and she was up at 7:30 to take Kayla to her dad’s.”

The accident changed Ben and his children’s lives forever. He makes every effort to never be tired while behind the wheel and always buckles up. Plus, he said his oldest son, who is now 20 years old, always reminds everyone in the car to put on their seat belt.

“I’m here to give you my experience of what we went through as a family, and because of that my kids paid the ultimate price because they don't have their mom," Fraughton said.

According to AAA, symptoms of driving drowsy include difficulty keeping your eyes open, drifting from lanes, or not remembering the last few miles you drove. However, the study notes that more than half of drowsy drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes did not observe such symptoms before falling asleep.

AAA recommends seven hours of sleep before driving, and they provide the following tips for staying alert during longer trips.

  • Travel at times when normally awake
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment