AAA Drowsy Driving

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COLUMBIA - Russ Burris was a normal high school graduate, until he wasn't. 

Now, 26 and a half years later, Burris is in a wheelchair all because he didn't get enough sleep.

"Driving home, which I don't remember thinking about the drive, I fell asleep. Crossed the center line, hit a driveway embankment, flipped my car not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected through the sun roof, landed on the highway and was paralyzed from the chest down instantly," Burris said. 

Burris is a transportation coordinator for MU Health Care ambulance services, and uses his story as a way to spread the word on drowsy driving and when to know to pull over.

"I actually fell asleep and crashed 90 seconds from my destination. That's why I didn't stop. I knew I could stay awake for one more mile," Burris said.

The American Automobile Association came out with a new study in early December that echoes Burris' warnings.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 35 percent of Americans get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. And if a driver misses just one or two of those hours, their chance for crashing nearly doubles. Missing two to three hours quadruples the risk.

"You can have micro sleep or sleep attacks when you're driving if you're sleep deprived. On a highway at a speed of 60 or 70, that few seconds can lead to a crash and it can be detrimental," MU Health Neurologist Munish Goyal said.

The study also says drivers who get less than five hours of sleep have a crash risk similar to driving over the legal limit for alcohol. Goyal said alcohol can have a bigger impact than people think on their level of tiredness. 

"During the holidays, people think 'Eh, a couple of drinks don't matter' but that can add up to sleep deprivation," Goyal said.

With the holidays coming up, people work longer hours and have busier schedules, and often sleep is sacrificed in the process. Burris said sleep should be a priority, especially with so many distractions surrounding the end of the year. 

"What is so important that is worth taking another human life? To drive one more mile? To get in that extra three or four hours at work where you should be taking a nap instead?" Burris said.

Although Burris uses his story to inform others, he still knows its a hard lesson to learn. 

"I wasn't the lucky one who walked away from it. I had to learn the hard way."

For more statistics on drowsy driving, visit the AAA website.