An estimated 16.5% of all fatal vehicle crashes involve a driver who is driving while drowsy. That statistic is one of the key findings in a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Additionally, 13.1% of these driving while sleepy crashes result in hospitalization and 7% result in a passenger vehicle being towed. According to the study, drivers between the ages of 16-24 were nearly twice as likely as drivers age 40-59 to be involved in a drowsy automobile or car crash.
These new estimates are based on data from the AAA Foundation’s 3rd annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which is national telephone survey comprised of 2,000 U.S. residents of driving age conducted from May 11 through June 7, 2010 by Abt SRBI Inc.
While studies have been done before, the current study found percentages substantially higher than previous estimates, indicating that the effect of driving while drowsy on accidents resulting in injuries and deaths on our nations roads and highways may not be fully appreciated.
Some of the answers to the survey were quite concerning. Two out of every five drivers reported that they had fallen asleep or nodded off while driving at least one time in their lifetime, with one in ten reporting having done so in the past year. Four percent reported falling asleep or nodding off at the wheel in the last month.
While only 4% reported nodding off while driving last month, 27% of last month’s drivers admitted that they had driven while they were “so sleepy that [they] had a hard time keeping [their] eyes open.”
Over half of the drivers who reported falling asleep at the wheel in the past year indicated that it occurred on a high-speed divided highway. Perhaps surprisingly, roughly one quarter of these drivers also indicated it occurred between noon and 5 p.m.
According to the AAA, symptoms of drowsiness while driving include but aren’t limited to:
1. Having trouble keeping your eyes open and focused;
2. The inability to keep your head up;
3. Daydreaming or having wandering, disconnected thoughts; and
4. Drifting from your lane or off the road, or tailgating.
The AAA made the following suggestions to avoid driving while sleepy.
1. Getting plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before a long trip;
2. Scheduling a break every two hours or every 100 miles;
3. Traveling at times when you are normally awake, and staying overnight rather than driving straight through; and
4. Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time.