Who would you rather be in the car with: a drunk driver or a drowsy one? The answer might not be as simple as you think. A study has shown that being awake for 24 straight hours causes impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of .10 percent — more than the legal limit of 0.08 percent. It’s a statistic that Mora Haggerty-Shaw Winstanley, the victim of a drowsy driving accident, knows all too well.
In 2006, Mora, then 17, and a friend were driving on a remote highway in the Cascade Mountains. What Mora didn’t know was that her friend had already been awake for nearly 24 hours when they got in the car. The friend fell asleep at the wheel, crashing the car into a tree at 65 miles per hour. The driver and another passenger suffered only minor injuries.
Mora, however, was unconscious and trapped in the front seat, and emergency responders were more than 30 minutes away. Fortunately, a trauma nurse drove past the scene of the accident and called Airlift Northwest’s emergency air rescue service. Mora was transported to Harborview Medical Center, Washington’s only Level I adult and pediatric trauma center.
Mora’s parents, Bill Shaw and Mary Beth Haggerty-Shaw, still remember the frantic drive to the hospital, where they learned that Mora’s condition was critical. She spent weeks in a coma, and doctors didn’t expect her to wake up. When Mora finally woke, she was in a full-body cast; she spent a month in acute care and two months at a skilled nursing facility before returning to Harborview for three weeks of intensive inpatient rehabilitation.
Over a decade after the accident, Mora has made a remarkable recovery. She earned a paralegal certificate from the University of Washington, works as a legal assistant at a law firm in Seattle and married in June 2018. But she is still enduring the consequences of the accident. Her ankle was crushed so badly that she cannot run, and her lower body is held together with plates and screws. She struggles with chronic pain and early-age arthritis at 29. “The consequences of getting behind the wheel of a car after being awake for 18 to 24 hours are devastating,” says Mora.
“Without the amazing dedication and expertise of the skilled nurses at Harborview, the trauma and orthopaedic teams and some of the top surgeons in the world, we would be laying flowers on Mora’s grave instead of celebrating her marriage,” says William.
Nationwide, drowsy driving causes 100,000 crashes each year, resulting in an estimated 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries. Since the accident, the Shaw family has dedicated themselves to increasing awareness of the risks of drowsy driving, running a statewide campaign with the Washington State Patrol and the governor’s office each November. And, in appreciation of the care Mora received, Bill and Mary Beth give to support Harborview’s trauma center. Even better, they say, would be preventing drowsy driving in the first place.
“If we save one life, or prevent one person from getting terrible, life-changing injuries like mine,” says Mora, “then our job will be done.”