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Utahn warns drivers to try not to push through while sleepy

Chris Draper talks about an accident he survived after falling asleep at the wheel during a press conference about drowsy driving, hosted by the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Department of Public Safety, outside of St. MarkÕs Hospital in Millcreek on Thursday, July 11, 2019.

MILLCREEK — If you feel like just pushing through on that road trip, don’t. One Utah man wants to make sure you pull over and take a nap, because it could save your life.

Chris Draper was 19-years-old when he was driving from Wells to Wendover behind his cousin at about 6 in the morning. He remembers yawning, and a head bob.

“It wasn’t much a warning,” he said. “I slapped my face and turned the AC up, and then I nodded and opened my eyes and I wasn’t looking at the freeway anymore.”

His car rolled 7 times.

“I watched the construction guys pull off, and the first thing I heard them say was, ‘Please don’t be dead, please don’t say we just watched him die.'”

Draper’s seat belt saved his life. He only had a goose egg. But he had to search for his phone in the dirt to call his family and tell them what happened.

He has spent the last 11 years since then speaking out about the dangers of driving drowsy. He says there’s this attitude he calls “Get-there-itis,” where you think you just need to get there. But it’s not worth it, he says.

“Drowsy driving can happen to any of us,” said UDOT’s John Gleason at the news conference outside St Mark’s Hospital. “You may not do any of these other things, like drunk driving, but any of us can get sleepy behind the wheel.”

He said drowsy driving is the second highest cause of fatalities of motor vehicular crashes.

These kinds of crashes seem to happen more with male drivers, and new drivers.  16 years to 20 years is the age range that’s overrepresented in drowsy driving crashes.

And this happens more often over the summer when people are taking long road trips.

A doctor was also at the news conference. St Mark’s trauma medical director Kris Mitchell said a “tired brain” is very similar to a drunken brain.

Staying awake for 18 hours, he said, is equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of .05%, the legal limit in Utah. A full 24 hours without sleep is equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.1%, well over the legal limit.