A new study conducted by the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety concluded that motorists are causing thousands of accidents by driving while drowsy. In fact, the new findings reveal that drowsiness plays a role in almost 10% of all car accidents! This research also strongly contradicts the federally proposed number of accidents caused by sleep-deprived driving.
NHTSA Reports of Drowsy Driving Accidents
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in 2017 that drowsy driving accounted for 1.4% of all police-reported accidents, 2% of crashes resulting in injuries, and 2.4% of traffic accidents that resulted in fatalities from 2011 to 2015.
However, these federal numbers are skewed. For the NHTSA to claim drowsiness caused a crash, the responsible driver must verbally admit to police or insurance companies that the cause of the accident was sleepiness. Few motorists are willing to offer that information to the police because it looks unfavorably on the driver’s decision to get behind the wheel.
Running a red light for no other reason than “absent-mindedness” may seem worse than admitting it was due to drowsy driving, but driving while tired is a “premeditated” decision. This premeditation is worse in the eyes of officials than a momentary lapse in judgment. In fact, drowsy driving has been compared to driving while drunk since, in both scenarios, a driver chooses to operate a car while they are mentally and physically impaired.
Authorities look down on drowsy driving because the driver knowingly endangered the lives of other motorists by getting behind the wheel. Therefore, the consequences for a person who caused an accident while fatigued are more severe than the consequences for someone who caused an accident through momentary inattention.
AAA Research Proves Drowsy Driving Is an Epidemic
AAA researchers wanted to investigate to see if there was a strong connection between drowsy driving and car accidents. To accomplish this, AAA put video cameras in volunteers’ cars to record their actions as they drove. The efforts of this study captured the faces of drivers before they were involved in a crash. Researchers were able to record more than 700 accidents while using the volunteers’ cameras.
The examiners would watch 3 minutes of video before each crash to determine if the driver was sleepy. Researchers found that drowsiness was a factor in 9.5% of total crashes and in 10.8% of crashes that caused severe damage. This means AAA found a direct correlation between drowsiness and car accidents that was eight times the federally stated amount. With this in mind, AAA believes drowsiness was a direct cause of thousands of the 37,000 American roadway fatalities of 2016.
2007 Study on the Danger of Drowsy Driving
In a 2007 report on the dangers of drowsy driving, Dr. Charles Czeisler, a sleep researcher at Harvard, explained how a person driving after being up for 18 straight hours has the same impairment level as a drunk driver.
Dr. Czeisler and other members of the National Sleep Foundation also noted that there are three leading at-risk groups for drowsy driving crashes:
- College students
- Truckers or professional drivers
- Medical residents and interns
When the report was first released, some questioned its necessity—weren’t the findings obvious? Perhaps they might seem that way, and yet countless professionals are encouraged to circumvent mandatory rest period legislation, essentially forcing them to “drive drowsy” and putting everyone with whom they share the road at risk of serious accidents.
While the risks associated with tired driving are always present, they are particularly pressing during the winter months when darkness falls in the early afternoon. All of a sudden, tired drivers who previously had daylight as a tool to mitigate sleepiness lose that crutch—and accident rates increase markedly.
Sleep Is the Only True Solution to Drowsy Driving
After the most recent research results were analyzed, AAA recommended that all drivers sleep at least seven hours a night to combat drowsy driving. According to AAA, getting four or five hours of sleep can more than quadruple the likelihood of a person causing an accident. Caffeine and cold water is not a permanent solution, and experts say that if you begin to feel tired, it’s time to pull over. Taking a quick power nap at a rest stop can be a huge help in fighting off drowsy driving.
Getting Legal Help After an Injury Caused by Drowsy Driving
The ultimate fix to the nation’s drowsiness problem is sleep, but many Americans will continue to forgo rest to accomplish other goals. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 35% of all Americans sleep less than seven hours a night. This means drowsy driving will continue to be an irreparable problem until people commit to having a good night’s rest.