UPDATED 9.1.2011 7pm by Julie Montanaro
Thousands of Floridians will hit the road this holiday weekend. One Tallahassee family wants to make sure none of them nod off behind the wheel.
Ronshay Dugans died when a drowsy driver rear-ended her bus bound for the Boys and Girls Club.
A state law with her name on it aims to keep tragedies like that from happening again.
Perhaps you've been there before. Your chin drops suddenly. You roll down your window, turn up your radio, drink some more coffee but you just can't keep your eyes open.
"It only takes a second to change a family's life like it changed our family's life," said James West, Ronshay's brother.
Eight year old Ronshay Dugans lost her life when a bus bound for the Boys and Girls Club was rear-ended by a drowsy driver in a cement truck.
Her family lobbied for a state law, got it, and now each year joins troopers to kick off Drowsy Driving Prevention Week in her memory.
"It means to me that Ronshay did not go out in vain and that we can still help people through Ronshay's name and instead of it being a negative, we can make it positive," said her aunt Josie West, "and believe it or not, it comforts me knowing that people are listening."
Here are the drivers most at risk for nodding off according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: young people, especially men ages 16 to 29. shift workers and folks whose zzz's are constantly interrupted by sleep apnea.
There are peak times for drowsy driving too.
"There's an increase in motor vehicle accidents that occur between midnight and 6 o'clock in the morning and another bump about 3 o'clock in the afternoon," said Dr. Gregory Holt, a clinical sleep specialist with Tallahassee's Sleep Diagnostic Center.
The Dugans family says if this Drowsy Driving message prompts even one person to think twice and pull over at a rest stop, it will be a success.
"What our family went through, I wouldn't want any other family to go through," James West said.
[UPDATE] Tallahassee, Florida - September 1, 2011 - Noon -
Thousands of Floridians will hit the road this holiday weekend and a Tallahassee family wants to make sure none of them nods off behind the wheel.
Today the family of Ronshay Dugans joined troopers to kick off Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.
The 8-year-old was killed when a drowsy driver slammed into the bus in which she was riding. Labor Day will mark the third anniversary of that tragic crash. Ronshay's family pushed for a state law to try to make people more aware of the dangers of nodding off behind the wheel. This week the message is going out across the state.
"This is another anniversary so the family does continue to go through the grieving period, but when we see things like this and we see things on the news, that Ronshay's name is still making a change it helps the family," says Josie West, Ronshay's aunt.
Stats show that shift workers and young people between the ages of 16 and 29 are most likely to fall asleep while driving. That kills more than 15-hundred people a year nationwide.
Ronshay's family will be handing out coffee at rest stops on Monday to remind people to stay awake.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – You fight to keep your eyes opened, your head up. You have stopped for coffee because you just have to get to your destination as soon as possible. Then before you have time to react, you are wide-awake enough to see oncoming traffic, since you’ll have veered into it!
All too often this scenario is real on Florida’s roadways. To prevent crashes caused by driver fatigue and save lives, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Department of Transportation are teaming up with lawmakers and safety advocates during Florida’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week on Sept. 5 – 9.
State Rep. Alan Williams, District 8, sponsored the legislation that created the Ronshay Dugans Act in 2010, which designates the first week of September as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.
“Ronshay lost her life after a driver crashed into the bus that she was riding,” said Representative Williams. “Her family shares their story about their loss so other families might be spared this tragedy. Drowsy driving can be eliminated with simple planning and a conscious decision to pull over when you know you are tired. We want everyone traveling Florida roads to arrive safely at their destinations.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year driver fatigue results in 100,000 police-reported crashes, 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. However, the full impact that sleepy drivers have is unknown because crashes caused by driver fatigue are under-reported as they often rely on a driver to self-report.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. --
Rep. Alan Williams statement:
Representative Alan B. Williams (D-Tallahassee) joined state officials at a press conference today to recognize the Ronshay Dugans Act. The law, which creates a Drowsy Driving Prevention Week each year, was written in 2009 in memory of Ronshay Dugans, an 8-year-old Tallahassee girl killed in a crash involving an impaired motorist.
This week, the Department of Transportation, Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and the Florida Highway Patrol are using the Ronshay Dugans Act to bring awareness to a problem that has been reported too often in this county, state and our nation, usually following fatal car crashes. According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driver fatigue results in 100,000 police-reported crashes, 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in losses each year. The agency also reports that nearly 30 percent of drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel, and more than half admit to driving while drowsy.
“I worked hard for the passage of the Ronshay Dugans Act to ensure that every September a week is dedicated to bringing greater awareness to the issue of drowsy driving and to do it in Ronshay's name. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Just as drugs and alcohol can impair a driver’s performance, sleepiness can slow reaction time, impair judgment and increase the risk of a crash. We must do all we can to raise awareness of the dangers of driving drowsy to help save lives,” said Representative Williams.
Tallahassee, Florida - September 1, 2011 -
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Florida Department of Transportation holds a news conference to kick off Drowsy Driving Prevention Week in Florida. The State Legislature created the Ronshay Dugans Act last year, which designates the first week of September as a time to remind everyone of the risks associated with drowsy driving.
Eyewitness News will have much more on this story.