Tulsa Doctor: Fatigue A Problem For Drivers Of All Ages

Tuesday, October 5th 2010, 5:30 pm
By: News On 6

By Dan Bewley & Scott Thompson, The News On 6

TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- A Tulsa hospital is working to fight a deadly problem on the highways.

The Sleep Lab at St. John Health System is helping drivers stay awake and avoid accidents.

Steven Gruenau's job puts people to sleep. He's director of the sleep lab at St. John Health System. Fifty patients a week come seeking treatment for one of our greatest needs, sleep.

"It's a third of our lives so it's very important," Gruenau said.

The National Transportation Safety Board says 31 percent of all truck accidents on the highways are caused by driver fatigue.

One of the more high profile cases happened last year near Miami when Donald Creed drove his truck into a row of cars stopped because of an accident on the Will Rogers Turnpike killing ten people.

The NTSB said Creed was experiencing driver fatigue. He had been on the job since three o'clock that morning and the crash happened just after one in the afternoon, a time when Gruenau says most people become drowsy.

9/28/2010 Related Story: NTSB Cites Fatigue In 2009 I-44 Crash That Killed 10 Motorists

"Whether you eat lunch or you don't eat lunch, around 12 to 1 o'clock, there is a decrease in your alertness and your activity," Gruenau said.

The NTSB points out that driver fatigue isn't just for older drivers. The original accident that caused the backup on the turnpike was caused when an 18-year-old driver fell asleep at the wheel.

Gruenau says it's evident in his lab that age doesn't matter, that sleeping problems and fatigue can affect anyone.

"We're seeing a lot of teenagers that have sleep apnea," he said. "It's more prevalent in age groups of 40 and above but it's really an epidemic in this country."

Gruenau says if you experience fatigue while driving on the road you need to get off the highway immediately and take an extended break. He says five minutes is not enough.

9/29/2010 Related Story: OU-Tulsa Professor Developing Technology To Help Avoid Car Crashes