Sleepy-driver bill put to rest in Michigan

| 12/13/2004

A Michigan House panel hit the snooze button on legislation that sought to serve as a wake-up call for drivers.

The House Committee on Criminal Justice failed to approve a bill before the session ended Thursday, Dec. 9, that was intended to punish sleepy drivers who cause fatal accidents. The committee’s inaction effectively kills the measure for the year.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lorence Wenke, R-Kalamazoo, called for people who drive after going without sleep for more than 24 hours and cause the death of another person to be charged with a misdemeanor. The tired driver could spend up to two years in prison and face a $2,000 fine.

Richard Barkley, a spokesman for Wenke, said the committee had concerns about enforcement.

“Unlike measuring blood alcohol content, there’s no real objective measure of how tired someone is. Absent of witnesses, how do you decide how long someone’s gone without sleep unless they admit it or you can pin down their activities for the past 24 hours,” Barkley said.

Wenke said the bill – HB5707 – was inspired by New Jersey’s “Maggie’s Law,” adopted after a driver who hadn’t slept for 30 hours killed 20-year-old Maggie McDowell. The man received a $200 ticket.

Then-New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey signed the measure into law in 2003, encouraging other states to follow.

In 2002, 977 crashes in Michigan were reportedly caused by fatigue – 10 of them fatal – according to the Capital News Service.

The U.S. Department of Transportation identifies fatigue as the biggest safety problem in transportation operations, costing more than $12 billion a year in productivity and property loss, the news service reported.

Barkley said Wenke intends to reintroduce the measure when lawmakers reconvene next year.

“He believes it’s an issue that needs to be addressed and discussed,” Barkley said.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor