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Driving Drowsy

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GREENVILLE, N.C. -

For so many people, it's all about learning when to say when; when to say, you know what, I'm doing too much, I need a little break.
      
That should be the anthem for everyone. There are days that you push yourselves to the edge; you're overworked, you're overtired, and then you need to run one more errand so you get behind the wheel of the car.
     
9 On Your Side went digging through the archives and found over the past three years, it's become a deadly trend here in the east.

Video of Doug Landon and his daughter Jordan inside a Craven County convenience store is now eerie to watch. If you look closely, you can see Doug nodding off.

Moments after walking out of that door, Doug would be killed. Craven County deputies believe he fell asleep at the wheel.

Video tributes to Briana Gather and Victoria Carter are a painful reminder for friends and family. On an early morning trip to get their hair done, the ECU students were killed.

Kamil Arrington was driving that morning. She fell asleep.

17-year-old Hannah Loy from Pine Knoll Shores fell asleep at the wheel. She was killed.

18-year-old Tarboro High football standout Randy Higgs was in the back seat of a car when the driver fell asleep. Randy was killed.

No one was drinking. No one was doing any kind of drugs. They just fell asleep.

It's something Jason Spaur knows first- hand.

"The next thing I know I'm waking up to someone's car horn and I'm at the first driveway of the Morris Farm in Bridgeton and just barely inside my lanes," recalled Spaur.

He had a brush with death when he fell asleep at the wheel not once, but twice.

"It was milliseconds. It doesn't take any time at all really. One split second, one moment too heavy on the gas, one moment of the nose of your vehicle turning in or out of the incoming lane with someone else trying to merge," he said.

Long day of work; very few hours of sleep.

Dr. John Fogarty with Physicans East Sleep Center says we are pushing ourselves throughout the day, but we're pushing into the danger zone.

"We know from the moment we wake up, we have a gradual building that gets stronger as the day goes on so our alertness is very strong early on and then after 12 to 16 hours our alertness is no doubt going to reduce significantly," said Fogarty.

Meredith Cottle's story should frighten any parent with a teen driver in the house.

She was 17 at the time. And like most high schoolers, her day started very early. With her 13-year-old sister in tow, the two headed down the road to school.

But just ten minutes into that trip, Meredith dozed off and her cruise was set on 60.

"It had rained the night before so I was slipping and sliding all over the road and I ended up in a ditch with my little sister," said Cottle. "I could see the fear on her face. My side went in so she's in her seatbelt kind of trying to not fall on me. So it was scary. I was really scared for her because you know that, big sister, I have to protect my little sister so I was scared for her. It's not our right or place to decide to take somebody else's life in our hands and in all truth that's what I did that day when I got behind the wheel the last time when I was exhausted. I put myself and every other motorist out there at risk."

And now, it's three years later.

"I try to crank up the AC and roll down the window, blare the music, sometimes just call my mom to keep me doing something just so I won't fall asleep," said Cottle.

"So that doesn't stop you from driving when you're tired," 9 On Your Side asked her.

"No, not necessarily. I mean a little but sometimes you just have to get where you're going," she answered.

Doctor John Fogarty says most people share that same thought process and that is why more and more people are dying on our roads.

"The pressures that drive us to do more and more everyday whether it's our families, our work schedule or the things we're involved in with outside of work don't stop the moment we walk in the house," said Fogarty. "It's really simple. They've got a family to go home to at the end of the day. They've got something to do at the end of the day aside from the job they're doing, the party they're going to, and you know what? So does everybody else."

"I'm a parent, just like many of you. So by the time I get to work here in the afternoon, I've already been up for seven hours…and it's an active seven hours. Add that to a very active and intense 8 hours at the office, by the time I'm in my car around midnight, I know I am running on fumes. But I also know in 6 and a half hours, I have to do it all over again," said 9 On Your Side's Amanda Goodman.

"Long term is a whole different story in terms of the consequences of sleep deprivation. I think these are the things that warrant really going after this as a public health issue," said Fogarty.

A public health issue and a public warning.

Forget the numbers. Forget the statistics. This is what you really need to know. It's more than just being a little tired. Research shows driving drowsy is just as dangerous as driving drunk.

"I would take my chances with a dozen drunks on the road before I ever would with someone sleeps," said Fogarty.

Jason Spaur wrecked his truck twice when he fell asleep at the wheel. …

"I'm ashamed that I let myself become that exhausted and still attempt to operate a motor vehicle. It doesn't work. It's not safe, it's not. It was stupid on my part, I'll just say it plain enough," said Spaur.

And plain enough, Jason admits he should have been killed.

"I'll say that maybe my training kicked in, in all the years that I've driven in the farms and the back countries and the hunting fields, but really there is no logical reason for me to be here," said Spaur. "I lucked up twice, you've heard the old expression third times a charm. I'm not going to try for number three. I like me too good to try for number three."

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