11 years after near-fatal crash, woman continues fight against drowsy driving

She shares her story during Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week

Eleven years after Mora Shaw nearly died in a vehicle crash caused by drowsy driving, the 29-year-old Issaquah native says she will never get over it.

The crash occurred on a remote highway in the Cascade Mountains after her friend dozed off at the wheel at 65 mph, slamming the vehicle into a tree. Mora would later learn that her friend had been awake for almost 24 hours before deciding to drive that day.

Mora’s body was pinned inside the front passenger seat of the crumpled car; emergency crews were more than a half hour away. If not for the help of a trauma nurse who happened upon the scene of the wreck, Mora’s family believes she would have died.

The nurse, who was driving her son to a doctor’s appointment, stopped and summoned an air ambulance to the scene. Mora’s father, William Shaw, said that his daughter technically died, but medics revived her. She spent a couple of weeks in a coma at the hospital. Doctors did not expect her to wake up, but she did.

“She kept living,” he said. “It is truly a miracle that she is alive.”

Years of recovery followed.

“In the accident, my ankle was crushed so bad that I am never able to run again, and I will need more surgery on it throughout my life,” Mora said. “From my hips to my feet, my body is held together with plates and screws. I received a traumatic brain injury and lost over two years of my life at the hospital and in rehab.”

Mora Shaw

She shares her story every November as part of Drowsy Driving Awareness and Prevention Week in Washington, proclaimed this year by Gov. Jay Inslee for Nov. 5–12. The statewide proclamation coincides with National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving website.

According to the foundation, being continuously awake for 18 to 24 hours, or longer, makes someone unfit to drive. Driving during hours normally spent sleeping increases the risk of drowsy driving.

“Like alcohol and drugs, sleep loss or fatigue impairs driving skills such as hand-eye coordination, reaction time, vision, awareness of surroundings, decision-making, judgement and inhibition,” according to the proclamation Inslee signed.

Nationwide, drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes each year, resulting in approximately 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. In Washington, drowsy driving caused 64 fatal crashes and 308 serious-injury crashes from 2011 to 2015.

Preventing drowsy driving

Those numbers are why Mora and her family continue to speak up about the problem.

“Our lives are busy and fast-paced — and we as a society just don’t get enough sleep,” Mora said. “I beg you to pause and think before you get behind the wheel of a car when you are tired. The result can be injury or death to you or others.”

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and that on long driving trips, drivers should schedule breaks about every 100 miles or two hours. Drivers who feel drowsy should find a safe place to stop and take a 15–20 minute nap.

Signs of drowsy driving include difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids; daydreaming; wandering or disconnected thoughts; trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs; yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes; trouble keeping your head up; and drifting from your lane, tailgating or hitting a shoulder rumble strip.

In addition to working with the Governor’s Office on Drowsy Driving Prevention and Awareness Week, the Shaw family has collaborated on similar efforts with the Washington State Patrol, the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, AAA of Washington, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the King County Council and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

The Shaw family during Christmas 2015. From left: William Shaw, Mora Shaw, Mary Beth Haggerty-Shaw and Liam Shaw. (Courtesy of the Shaw family)

Mora has come a long way since that July day in 2006 on Blewett Pass. She earned a communication degree from Western Washington University, received her paralegal certification from the University of Washington and landed a job at a Seattle law firm. She recently became engaged, with a wedding set for next summer. Despite the positive changes, she still struggles with pain and knows her life will never be the way it was before the crash.

“My damaged body, brain and spirit will never get over it,” she said. “Every single day, my aches and pains remind me of that driver’s poor decision to drive a car when she had not slept for almost 24 hours.”

There is a simple solution, she added. “It can so easily be avoided with proper sleep and mindfulness when getting behind the wheel of the car.”