Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
UDOT spokesman Brent Wilhite tries to navigate a course after 36 sleepless hours.

Police say sleepy drivers make the same types of mistakes on the road as those accused of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

DUIs, however, typically receive more attention than driver fatigue.

That could change with new efforts by state officials to raise awareness to the problem of driver fatigue — blamed for at least 11 percent of fatalities on Utah roads.

"The reality of life is it's probably close to one-third or 50 percent," of the fatalities, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Lee Perry said at a news conference Wednesday evening.

The Utah Department of Transportation will install clusters of signs in areas known for crashes involving fatigued drivers with reminders such as "Caution — Drowsy Driving = Accidents" and "Drowsy Drivers Pull Over If Necessary."

Drivers immediately will notice the signs along the stretch of I-80 in Tooele County where in 2003 there were 14 fatalities that involved driver fatigue. I-70 and the state's southern portion of I-15 also will have signs by this summer, UDOT Director of Traffic and Safety Robert Hull said.

The number of accidents in the summer increases because more people are on the roads.

The idea was born spawned by UHP trooper R. Warren Nelson, who patrols I-70 and has investigated multiple fatal accidents caused by driver fatigue over the past six years.

"My original idea was purple signs and flashing lights, but the feds didn't like that," Nelson said.

In announcing the signs, state officials also demonstrated the effects of fatigued driving on UDOT spokesman Brent Wilhite, who stayed awake for 36 hours and attempted a driving course designed to simulate real-life driving conditions.

He tried the course four times fatigued. He completed the course only once without hitting any cones — but his time was four seconds longer than his average time when he was not fatigued.

Wilhite described struggling to keep his eyes awake as he was driving. The hardest part of driving while fatigued: "paying attention (to) where I'm going," he said.

Some drivers experience the "micro-sleep symptom," losing consciousness for a short duration. They drift off the road at high speeds, wake up and overcorrect the vehicle, which can cause it to roll.

Drivers also can easily experience fatigue on rural roads, many of which are long, monotonous and have little traffic, Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Derek Jensen said.

In Salt Lake County last week, there were two accidents which police believe driver fatigue could be responsible.

On May 26, a driver who may have been sleeping was injured when his sports-utility vehicle collided with a cement truck in Draper.

Two days before that, the Barrientos family — father, mother and two small boys — were hit using a crosswalk near Redwood Road and 700 North by a driver who also might have fallen asleep.

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