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Students face drowsy driving dangers on road

Nov. 18, 2005

By LAUREN BURRIS, reporter

It's the same, familiar road home, but halfway there you suddenly realize you don't remember going through a landmark town you always pass through. You fell asleep at the wheel.

Baylor Department of Public Safety Lt. Kevin Helpert said that within the past couple years, there have been incidents of Baylor students getting into accidents due to drowsy driving.

With many students driving home for Thanksgiving, Helpert said students need to make sure they've had a good night of sleep the night before driving.

In 1999, six college students, four of whom attended Baylor, were killed in an accident when a driver fell asleep at the wheel.

Later that year, Baylor Student Congress passed a bill to help Texas A&M with the Lupe Medina Program, which started in 1998 after Lupe Medina, a student at Texas A&M, fell asleep at the wheel, and was killed in a crash.

The program allows students to stop at participating motels, show their student IDs and receive a discounted rate for a night in a motel room. Student Congress assisted by contacted hotels to participate in the program and by making students aware of the program.

"I've had friends who have gotten in accidents because they didn't stop," New Braunfels Super 8 employee Kristen Hamilton said. "Especially if they're driving a long way, I'd tell them to stop."

There are more than 50 participating hotels in Texas and in three surrounding states. Hamilton said even if she didn't know about the program, she would give a discount to students who felt susceptible to falling asleep at the wheel.

"Hopefully, it will encourage students to stop at a local motel or hotel when they feel they're getting too drowsy to drive," Corpus Christi senior David Jakubowski said. "In doing so, it will keep them from putting their own lives in jeopardy and the lives of others."

Jakubowski is the chairman for the Student Government's community affairs committee. The committee is responsible for the Lupe Medina Program.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 100,000 police-reported crashes are caused by drowsy driving.Fifty-five percent of drowsy-driving crashes involve people under the age of 24, according to the safety administration.

Jakubowski said he's personally experienced drowsy driving.

"Mine was pretty bad because I had to stop and pull over," Jakubowski said. "I swerved into the grassy area, and that woke me up. I was lucky that nobody was behind me or in front of me."

Helpert said many students rely on cranking up the air conditioning and turning the volume up on the radio, but said that is only a false sense of security.

Helpert said students feeling drowsy should "pull over in what they believe would be a safe place, a well-lit area."

"Walk around the vehicle a few times until you feel like you're awake again," he said.

He said convenience stores and shopping mall parking lots were examples of places to stop.

James Shaw, a senior from Lexington, Ky., said he usually drives home for Christmas and summer.

For Thanksgiving, he'll be driving about eight hours to his grandparents' house in Mississippi. He said he's never felt himself falling asleep while driving; he resorts to coffee and loud music when he's driving while tired.

According to the safety administration, common risks and causes for drowsy driving are sleep loss, use of sedating medications, untreated or unrecognized sleep disorders, use of alcohol and an active lifestyle that restricts sleep.

"Getting drowsy -- it's a horrible feeling," Helpert said. "To me, the length of the trip isn't as much (a factor) as watching medication and getting enough sleep."