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About Half of Americans Admit to Driving While Drowsy
Chaffin Luhana LLP
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The National Sleep Foundation states that about half of U.S. adult drivers admit to consistently driving while drowsy. About 20 percent admit to falling asleep behind the wheel at some point over the past year, and more than 40 percent admit to this happening at least once in their lives.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that drowsy driving killed nearly 800 people in 2017. Between 2009 and 2013, it was a factor in 72,000 police-reported crashes.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently reported that 45 percent of adults struggle to stay awake while driving. AASM President Dr. Kelly A. Carden stated, “Driving while drowsy is similar to drunk driving with regards to the delays in reaction time and impairment in decision-making.”

Studies Indicate Drowsy Driving More Prevalent Than Believed

In a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, results showed that an average of 328,000 crashes annually—including 109,000 that resulted in injuries and 6,400 that resulted in fatalities—involve a drowsy driver.

The authors wrote that the problem of drowsy driving is likely much greater than the statistics reveal,

“due to the many difficulties and limitations inherent in relying on crash-involved drivers realizing, remembering, and willfully reporting to a police officer that he or she had fallen asleep or was fatigued.”

Most drivers who feel drowsy before a crash will be unlikely to report it. Some that fall asleep may not even realize that they did so. Research indicates that a person has to have been asleep for a substantial length of time before realizing, after waking up, that he or she had been asleep.

In an earlier 2006 study of 109 vehicles with in-vehicle cameras and other data collection equipment, researchers found that about 22-24 percent of crashes and near-crashes involved moderate to severe drowsiness.

How to Avoid Drowsy Driving

The National Safety Council (NSC) indicates that the impact of driving while drowsy is similar to driving under the influence of alcohol:

  • Reaction times, awareness of hazards, and the ability to sustain attention all worsen the drowsier a driver is.
  • Driving after 20 hours without sleep is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent—the U.S. legal limit.
  • Those who drive while fatigued are three times more likely to be in a car crash.

Commercial drivers are most at risk for drowsy driving because of the long hours they work. Others who are particularly vulnerable include shift workers, drivers with untreated sleep disorders, and drivers that use medications that leave them sleepy.

To help you stay safe, these tips may help:

  • Watch yourself—if you notice signs of being drowsy, pull over. These may include yawning or blinking frequently, missing your exit, having trouble remembering the last few miles you drove or drifting from your lane.
  • Do your best to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • Avoid driving late at night or while alone if possible.
  • Pullover at a rest stop, town, or city to take a nap if you notice yourself feeling drowsy.
  • Talk to your doctor about any medications that may cause drowsiness.

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