A recent study by AAA revealed that drowsy driving is more of a problem than we once thought. While federal authorities had previously estimated that as many as 2 percent of crashes on the nation’s roadways were a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel, AAA’s researchers found that the number is closer to 10 percent. Drivers who work the late shift, do double shifts, or work for long-haul trucking companies were among the drivers most likely to fall asleep while driving, leading to deadly accidents.
It has always been difficult for authorities to judge how many accidents occur on the roadway due to drowsy drivers or drivers falling asleep while driving. Drivers who survive these accidents are often reluctant to reveal that they actually fell asleep, and those who die, of course, can’t tell us what happened.
The AAA study examined facial data from dash cameras installed in 700 different vehicles that crashed. Researchers used facial analysis to determine the drowsiness of drivers in the moments leading up to their respective crashes. Result showed that 9.5 percent of overall crashes and almost 11 percent of crashes involving significant property damage were attributed to drivers who were drowsy.
An AAA Foundation survey found that 96 percent of drivers know that drowsy driving is dangerous for them and others, but around one-third of them, or 29 percent, admitted to driving drowsy in the past 30 days. It’s easy to see why. The CDC reports that around 35 percent of all drivers in the U.S. fail to get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night, a phenomenon that obviously leads to getting behind the wheel while sleepy. AAA’s Traffic Safety and Advocacy Research branch notes that missing just a few hours sleep each night can cause a driver’s risk of crashing to more than quadruple—which is equivalent to drunk driving.
Officially, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that in 2013, there were 72,000 crashes that were attributed to driver drowsiness. These crashes resulted in 800 deaths and an addition 44,000 injuries.
The CDC warns that the signs of drowsiness should be drivers’ cues to pull over and rest or to switch drivers. Those signs include:
- Forgetting the previous few miles driven
- Missing an exit
- Drifting from lane to lane
- Hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road
If you are a shift worker, a driver with a sleeping disorder such as sleep apnea, or if you take medication that makes you sleepy, pay special attention to your level of drowsiness prior to getting behind the wheel. All drivers should be sure to get sufficient sleep prior to driving. The potential fatal results of falling asleep at the wheel are not worth the cost of just waiting until you’re rested to drive where you need to go.