PinThere are ample news stories and studies with respect to drunk and drugged driving; however, driving while drowsy is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as many as 100,000 police-reported automobile accidents are the direct result of driver fatigue, and this results in an annual:

  • 1,550 fatalities
  • 71,000 injuries
  • $12.5 billion in monetary damages

According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the dog-eat-dog, faced-paced lifestyle plaguing many Americans often leads them to forgo sleep. Further, certain people like those who work the night shift, young males, and overworked individuals are generally at a higher risk for drowsy driving.

Created in 1947, the AAA Foundation functions as an educational and research organization dedicated to raising awareness through education toward reducing automobile injuries and saving lives. This current study is one of over 300 research projects undertaken by the Foundation.

The AAA Study

The AAA study reports that losing just one or two hours of sleep doubles a driver’s risk of having an automobile accident, and losing as little as three hours of sleep elevates the risk to the same as driving drunk—quadrupling a sleep-deprived driver’s risk of crashing.

The AAA Foundation collected and analyzed data from the NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey. This data was based on reported automobile crashes that:

  • Occurred in the U.S. between July 2005 and December 2007
  • Resulted in significant vehicular damage that required the towing of at least one vehicle
  • Resulted in the dispatch of emergency medical services to the scene

The analyzed sample consisted of 7,234 drivers who were involved in 4,571 automobile crashes.

Increased Risk for Accidents

In general, individuals who obtain six to seven hours of sleep increase their crash risk 1.3 times. Those sleeping five to six hours are 1.9 times more likely to cause a crash. Getting just four to five hours of sleep increases one’s crash risk by 4.3. Finally, obtaining less than four hours of sleep makes a driver 11.5 times more likely to crash. AAA also states that drowsy driving causes more than one in five fatal automobile accidents on U.S. roadways each year.

97 percent of people who participated in the study admitted that drowsy driving is, indeed, a serious threat to safety; however, nearly one in three admitted that at least once in the prior month s/he drove while having difficulty keeping his/her eyes open.

Symptoms of Drowsy Driving

The National Sleep Foundation outlines several symptoms that indicate one may be too drowsy to drive safely. They include:

  • Heavy eyelids, an inability to keep one’s eyes open
  • Drifting between lanes or other erratic driving
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Short-term memory loss, such as remembering the last few miles driven

Whereas these warning signs may be obvious, in many cases, an individual’s body will not always tell him/her that it’s not safe to drive.

Reducing Risk

Experts offer several tips for staying alert while driving. They include:

  • Drive with a companion, if possible
  • Schedule regular stops to recharge, every two hours or 100 miles, for example
  • Avoid alcohol and any medications which may cause drowsiness
  • Avoid heavy meals before driving a long distance
  • Try to travel during one’s normal awake time
  • Drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before

Don’t Risk It

According to the National Sleep Foundation, individuals who obtained fewer than two hours of sleep within a 24-hour period were unfit to drive a vehicle, while those who obtained only four to five hours during the previous 24 hours were likely to be significantly impaired to the point where their level of impairment is comparable to that of an intoxicated individual with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08—the legal limit for intoxication. Sleeping fewer than four hours is comparable to driving with a .12-.15 BAC.