Asleep at the wheel
West County mother tries to raise awareness of danger of driving while drowsy
By Mary Shapiro
On March 19, 2010, 18-year-old Tyler Warne, a senior at Parkway South High School in Manchester, died in a single car accident on Interstate 255.
The car missed a curve, ran down an embankment, hit a tree and a culvert and flipped over several times, according to the police report.
It was a sunny afternoon on the last Friday of Parkway District’s spring break.
Police found no evidence of alcohol, drugs or reckless driving.
“It was determined that the contributing factor was fatigue,” Tyler’s mother, Kerrie Warne, said. “In all likelihood, Tyler nodded off to sleep and was killed instantly.”
Tyler’s death spurred Warne to launch the website www.TyREDD.com, pronounced “tired”, which stands for Tyler Raising Education about Driving Drowsy.
To honor his memory, she’s planning to start making presentations at high schools and other venues to raise awareness of the dangers of driving while fatigued.
Tyler was involved in football, wrestling, track, choir, student council, and DECA, an internatinal association of marketing students. He was a good student, and had been accepted at Texas Christian University, Kerrie and her husband, Kyle, said.
“Tyler was so very accepting of everyone and went out of his way to make people feel special,” said Kerrie, who works as director for St. Alexius Hospital’s bariatric program, NewStart.
He could connect with anybody, said Kyle, who is a nursing student and an ICU tech at St. Johns Mercy Medical Center.
“A vigil the Sunday after he died had to be moved to the school gym because more than 200 kids and families came to share their stories of him, and his wake was standing room only,” Kerrie said.
She’s been supported in her awareness work by Tyler’s siblings, Austin, 12, and Sydnie, 10, who are sharing their stories.
“Sydnie’s been writing a book for kids who’ve lost siblings,” Kerrie said.
While parents talk to children about the dangers of speeding, alcohol, texting and drugs, nothing is typically said about fatigue, Kerrie said. “The National Highway Institute says one in six drivers is too tired to be behind the wheel, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes each year are the direct result of driver fatigue,” Kerrie said.
She said a National Sleep Foundation national survey found that 103 million people admitted they have briefly fallen asleep at the wheel, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying they’ve driven while drowsy.
“High risk times for driving drowsy, especially for those aged 25 and younger, are midnight to 6 a.m. and the “midafternoon slump” from 2 to 4 p.m.,” Kerrie said.
She’s concerned that, in other states besides Missouri, police reports include a code for fatigue or sleepiness as a cause on crash report forms.
“There’s no specific place on the universal police report used by police departments statewide to list fatigue or sleepiness as a cause of a crash, so this state doesn’t keep statistics on that,” said Lt. John Enderle, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop C.
“The only place you’ll find it listed is in the accident narrative, which doesn’t go in our statistics which we collect from all police agencies,” he said.
Young people like Tyler are the largest at-risk group for fall-asleep crashes due to their hectic social, work and school schedules, which often cause chronic sleep deprivation, Kerrie said.
Matt Uhles, director of operations with the Clayton Sleep Institute, is working with Kerrie on her campaign.
A fatality is more likely with drowsy than drunk driving, he said, because even a drunk driver will try to avoid an accident.
“A characteristic of drowsy driving accidents is that there’s no swerving or braking seen,” Uhles said.
Missouri has tried to deal with drowsy drivers.
Guard cable saves an average of 45 lives each year and up to 100 lives a year are saved by rumble strips, among other things, said Kara Price, intermediate community relations specialist – St. Louis for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“We miss Tyler tremendously, and, as a bereaved parent, your biggest fear is that your child will be forgotten, so I know what my mission is,” Kerrie said.
She hopes to soon speak to Parkway South High health classes, and a teacher friend at a Francis Howell High School has asked her to speak there.
Tyler’s girlfriend, Jordan Tuchmann, praised his “great family, who, by putting this out, will try to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
“If I can save one kid and their family from our experience, Tyler’s death will not have been in vain,” Kerrie said.