Drivers are Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel
Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, held every year during the first full week of November, is a good time to remember that drowsy driving is impaired driving.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about half of U.S. adult drivers admit to consistently getting behind the wheel while feeling drowsy. About 20% admit to falling asleep behind the wheel at some point in the past year – with more than 40% admitting this has happened at least once in their driving careers.
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 5,000 people died in 2015 in crashes involving drowsy driving, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report.
Driving while drowsy is similar to driving under influence of alcohol:
A driver might not even know when he or she is fatigued because signs of fatigue are hard to identify. 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.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, every year about 100,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving. These crashes result in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries. The real number may be much higher, however, as it is difficult to determine whether a driver was drowsy at the time of a crash.
A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually. That's more than three times the police-reported number. The same study found that 109,000 of those drowsy driving crashes resulted in an injury and about 6,400 were fatal. The researchers suggest the prevalence of 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.
Drowsy driving affects everyone, but especially those under age 25, who make up an estimated 50% or more of drowsy driving crashes.
That means interventions focusing on this age group – males especially – can help reduce drowsy driving among those vulnerable. One such intervention is for parents to incorporate discussions and rules on drowsy driving while completing their parent-teen driving agreements.
Other ways to reduce drowsy driving include:
The following are signs and symptoms of drowsy driving, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine: