According to the National Sleep Foundation, about half of U.S. adult drivers admit to consistently getting behind the wheel when drowsy. About 20% admit to falling asleep at the wheel during the past year – with over 40% admitting this has happened at least once in their driving years.
These startling figures show how prevalent drowsy driving is. What drivers may not realize is how much drowsy driving puts themselves – and others – at risk. In fact, an estimated 6,400 people die in crashes involving drowsy driving, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report.
Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but don’t realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal. Like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases your risk of crashing.
- Going more than 20 hours w/o sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08%
- You are 3x more likely to be in a car crash if you are fatigued
Some people may also experience micro-sleep – short, involuntary periods of inattention. In the 4 or 5 seconds a driver experiences micro-sleep, at highway speed, the vehicle will travel the length of a football field.
A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually. The same study found that 109,000 of those drowsy driving crashes resulted in an injury and about 6,400 were fatal. The researchers believe drowsy driving fatalities is more than 350% greater than reported.
Beyond the human toll is the economic one. NHTSA estimates fatigue-related crashes resulting in injury or death cost society $109 billion annually, not including property damage.
There are many underlying causes of sleepiness, fatigue and drowsy driving. Including sleep loss from restriction or too little sleep, interruption or fragmented sleep; chronic sleep debt; circadian factors associated with driving patterns or work schedules; undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders; time spent on a task; the use of sedating medications; and the consumption of alcohol when already tired. These factors have cumulative effects and a combination of any of these can greatly increase one’s risk for a fatigue-related crash.
In addition to the dangers of driving under the influence of fatigue, several states are considering legislation that would allow police to charge drowsy drivers with criminal negligence if they injure or kill someone while driving if they have not had adequate sleep.
About the National Sleep Foundation
The NSF is dedicated to improving health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy. Founded in 1990, the NSF is committed to advancing excellence in sleep health theory, research and practice.