Driving while tired? We’ve all done it — but a recent AAA study suggests those involved in doing so may be up to eight times more likely to be involved in a crash than federal estimates have previously thought.
The results of the study, released through the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety on Tuesday, found that footage of everyday drivers determined that crashes involving drowsiness is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates indicate. The research provides analysis of in-vehicle video from more than 700 crashes, confirming that the danger of drowsy driving soars above official estimates.
“Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show,” said Lloyd Albert, senior vice president of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast. “Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk. By conducting an in-depth analysis using everyday drivers, we can now better assess if a driver was fatigued in the moments leading up to a crash.”
The difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues, he said.
In the study, researchers examined video of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash. Using a scientific measure to link a percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed to their level of drowsiness, the researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness.
Federal estimates indicate drowsiness is a factor in only 1 to 2 percent of all crashes nationwide, according to statistics available through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The AAA study notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily, putting them at greater risk for a crash. Nearly all drivers, 96 percent, say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior.
Yet AAA also noted that approximately 29 percent of those surveyed admitted to driving in just the past month when they were so tired that they were having a hard time keeping their eyes open.
“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” Albert said. “But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”
Albert said knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel. The most common symptoms include having trouble keeping your eyes open, drifting from your lane and not remembering the last few miles driven. The only way to prevent it? Get some sleep — preferably at least 7 hours, to be specific.
“Don’t be fooled, the only antidote for drowsiness is sleep,” Mr. Albert said. “Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, rolling down the window will not work. Your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.”