Study: Drowsy-driving crashes more frequent than we thought

COLUMBUS — The percentage of crashes involving drowsy driving is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk.”

The difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most under-reported traffic safety issues.

Study Details

The AAA Foundation’s Prevalence of Drowsy Driving Crashes: Estimates from a Large-Scale Naturalistic Driving Study, is the most in-depth drowsy driving research ever conducted in the U.S.

In this study, researchers used in-vehicle dash cam videos to examine drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to more than 700 crashes. The scientific analysis found 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involve drowsiness – compared to federal estimates, which indicate drowsiness is a factor in just 1- to-2 percent of crashes.

Sleep Deprivation and Driving

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily.

“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” said Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA. “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.”

Nearly all drivers (96 percent) view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and completely unacceptable, according to a recent AAA Foundation survey. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.

Preventing Drowsy Driving Crashes:

The most common symptoms include:

  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open;
  • Drifting from your lane;
  • Not remembering the last few miles driven.

In addition to knowing the warning signs AAA recommends drivers:

  • Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake;
  • Avoid heavy foods before driving ;
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment;
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles;
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving on road trips.

Don’t underestimate the power of a quick nap. Pulling into a rest stop and taking a quick catnap — at least 20 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes — can help keep you alert.

“Don’t be fooled, the only antidote for drowsiness is sleep,” said William Van Tassel, manager of Driver Training for AAA. “Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, rolling down the window will now work. Your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.”

By Kimberly Schwind

Specialto the Inquirer

Kimberly Schwind is the senior manager of public affairs for theAAA Ohio Auto ClubReach