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Fla. Effort Warns Of Drowsy Driving Dangers, Remembers Little Girl Who's The Inspiration

Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

In advance of the Labor Day holiday, Florida Highway Patrol is highlighting the first week of September as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week to make sure motorists are not driving while they’re sleepy. The inspiration behind the week is an eight-year-old girl who lost her life to a drowsy driver in Tallahassee.

When remembering Ronshay Dugans, those who knew her remember her well, including Director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend Kasey Dennis.

“I remember Ronshay loving to dance. She loved our dance room. We had a program called ‘Wile Out Wednesdays’ where the kids would come in and have the opportunity to dance and enjoy the Boys and Girls Club. And, that was Ronshay’s favorite activity,” said Dennis.

But, on her way afterschool to the Boys and Girls Club, it was then when a tragedy occurred because she died as a result of a drowsy driver.

Credit Florida Sheriff's Association
Florida Sheriff's Association
Ronshay Dugans, 8, lost her life to a drowsy driver in Tallahassee.

“In 2008, Ronshay Dugans, then eight-years-old, was on a school bus with her classmates headed to an afterschool program when a cement truck crashed into the bus. Ronshay died as a result of head injuries she sustained in that crash,” said Mark Welch, 

Now, she has a new law named after her that’s been on the books since 2010 because of a bill filed by Tallahassee Democratic Representative Alan Williams. Florida Highway Patrol Major Mark Welch says the aim behind the “Ronshay Dugans Act” is to make more people aware of the dangers of drowsy driving.

“Driving when you’re tired or you’re sleepy is just as dangerous as driving drunk, drugged, or distracted. Like alcohol or drugs, drowsy driving decreases your reaction time, it impairs your decision-making abilities, and it makes you distracted,” added Welch.

And, he says it’s stories like Ronshay’s that allows people to put a face to this problem that doesn’t really have any concrete statistics.

“Since there’s no test for sleepiness, it’s difficult for law enforcement officers to determine if drowsiness had contributed to a crash,” stated Welch. “The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has estimated that over 5,100 deaths and 71,000 injuries per year are attributed to drowsy driving. And, because drowsy driving is so difficult to detect, it’s estimated that those numbers are low.”

The campaign’s slogan is “You Snooze, You Lose. Don’t Drive Drowsy.” And, speaking at a Leon County rest stop, Welch says the message is clear.

“We urge drivers, especially during this Labor Day holiday weekend period, to not drive drowsy. Get plenty of rest! Pull over! Use our rest areas! Take advantage of what you have so that you don’t drive drowsy,” said Welch. 

Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM
Ronshay Dugan's aunt, Josie Dugans-West, is speaking at the Leon Rest area at I-10 West, that she and her family will be going to Monday to make travelers aware of the dangers of drowsy driving.

And, it’s something Ronshay’s Aunt, Josie Dugans-West, is very passionate about. Every year, she and the rest of the family hand out free coffee at that same rest area to visiting motorists, when the week starts.

“…because we want to keep Ronshay’s spirit alive and get the message out because even though we couldn’t save her life, we could warn others to utilize the rest stop and get rest before hitting the roads,” said Dugans-West.

And, she says she feels the campaign has made a difference not just for other motorists, but for people in her family as well:

“Even if one person says ‘hey Josie, I thought about you, thought about Ronshay, I used the rest stop, pulled over and slept, or went to bed early.’ I have brother who drives a cement truck and if he has to get to work for 4, he goes to bed like at 7. He doesn’t care what’s going on because this has changed our entire life, you know, making sure that everybody gets rest. We’re not just talking to you guys, and we try to utilize the information we receive about drowsy driving,” she added.

This year, the family is going to a Tampa area rest stop as well as the traditional Leon location at Interstate-10 West to promote the “Drowsy Driving prevention” message, and next year they hope to expand the effort to South Florida.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.