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The Dangers of Driving Drowsy

Driving Drowsy Adds Danger to the Roadways

Chances are the driver swerving in the lane ahead of you might not be driving drunk after all, but instead, driving while drowsy.

The alarming trend of driving while drowsy continues to bring increased danger to roadways across America. According to statistics from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more and more drivers are now hitting the highways with inadequate sleep. In the last 10 years, AAA estimates that nearly every police officer watching the roadways has pulled over suspected drunk drivers only to find they were merely drowsy.

A 1994 survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that up to 100,00 police-reported crashes annually involve drowsiness or fatigue as a principal causal factor. According to NHTSA data, that accounts for 1.5 percent of all crashes. The NHTSA estimates these figures have only grown over the last 10 years.

On average, studies have found that at least 71,000 people are injured in fall-asleep crashes each year, with an estimated 1,500 deaths annually from drowsy driving. These figures, according to the NHTSA, total nearly $12.5 billion in monetary losses every year. Mounting evidence from the AAA Foundation suggests the numbers are continuing to grow higher and more dangerous.

The Dangers of Driving Drowsy

  • 89 percent of police officers agree drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving
  • 93 percent of police officers believe drowsy driving is becoming as serious a problem as drunk driving
  • 93 percent agree drowsy driving is a problem for passenger car drivers
  • 97 percent agree drowsy driving is also a problem for commercial drivers
  • 95 percent agree drivers who cause a crash because they are fatigued should be charged with a driving violation
  • 96 percent agree more education is needed to inform drivers about the dangers of drowsy driving

According to Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, police organizations across the country are trying to educate people about the dangerous effects of drowsy driving.

"Through releasing the results of our drowsy driving survey, we hope to raise public awareness on this important issue," Kissinger said. "The AAA Foundation's free brochure, "Wake Up!," also helps drivers by providing tips to understand the risks and symptoms associated with drowsy driving which are key to avoiding it."

Richard Gelula, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), says many drivers aren't aware of just how dangerous they are behind the wheel when drowsy.

"Promoting safe, healthy sleep practices to avoid drowsy driving is necessary to decrease its occurrence," Gelula said. "Through our site, we are spreading the word about the importance of sleep and being alert behind the wheel."

According to the NSF, it's working to debunk so-called remedies to drowsy driving such as rolling down the window and turning up the radio. These unhelfpul tips are just making drowsy driving even more dangerous.

Assistant Commissioner Earl M. Sweeny, chair of the Highway Safety Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said police are seeing more and more drivers who take to roadways fatigued and tired. Departments across the country are now working to tackle this growing highway danger.

"We were quite eager to assist the AAA Foundation in spreading the word among police officers to participate in their drowsy driving survey," Sweeny said. "As police officers, we are exposed to the real world issues affecting drivers and, as such, it makes a lot of sense to ask police officers about their experiences."

A recent NHTSA-sponsored Gallup survey found that 95 percent of the driving population considers drowsy driving by other people to be a threat to their safety. However, about 37 percent of respondents reported they had fallen asleep while driving at least once in their life. An additional 10 percent of respondents, an estimated 7.5 million drivers, had done so within the month preceding the survey.

In a study commissioned by the AAA Foundation, researchers from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center recently investigated the experiences of a sample of drivers who had been involved in drowsy driving crashes. Twenty-five percent of drivers who had fallen asleep at the wheel, and about 33 percent of those in crashes attributed to fatigue, reported sleeping an average of less than six hours per night. In comparison, about 11 percent of drivers involved in crashes unrelated to fatigue, and less than 7 percent of drivers not involved in crashes, reported sleeping so little.

Tips to Avoid Driving Drowsy

  • Do not drive when you are sleepy
  • Stop driving if you become sleepy while on the road
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage
  • Since it takes 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, take a 20-30 minute nap while waiting for the caffeine to take effect
  • Get at least six hours of sleep the night before a long trip
  • Do not plan to drive all night if you have already worked all day
  • Travel at times when you are normally awake
  • Stay overnight somewhere rather than driving through the night
  • Avoid driving during sleepy times.
  • Take an afternoon nap and find a place to sleep between midnight and 6 a.m.
  • Travel with an awake passenger
  • Take a break every two hours or 100 miles

Learn more about the AAA Foundation's drowsy driving survey.
Source - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety