Drowsy Driving Major Cause of Accidents in U.S.

By Paul Riegler on 4 January 2013
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Are you staying in your lane?

Are you staying in your lane?

If you’ve felt sleepy at the wheel and tried to keep going by drinking lots of Red Bull or blasting music from your iPhone, you’re not alone.  A study published in the January 4, 2013 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report suggests that roughly 4% of drivers believe they have fallen asleep at one point or another while driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving played a role in 2.5% of fatal car crashes and 2% of accidents with non-fatal injuries.  Other studies have estimated that the figure for fatal crashes could be between 15% and 33%.   This translates to a minimum of 730 motor vehicle accidents ending in a fatality where the driver was asleep, however briefly, and over 30,000 non-fatal accidents that involved a drowsy driver.

Crashes involving drowsy drivers are more likely to involve a fatality or result in an injury.

The study reports that 4.2% of adults said they had actually fallen asleep while driving, although the researchers believe the number to be several times higher because many people don’t later recall the fact that they actually fell asleep at the wheel.

Attention! Please proceed to the nearest Starbucks

Attention! Please proceed to the nearest Starbucks

The study was led by Anne G. Wheaton, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her team asked 147,000 adults in 19 states and the District of Columbia detailed questions covering daily activities ranging from driving, sleep, and work habits.

Drivers who don’t get sufficient sleep on a regular basis (i.e. fewer than six hours per night) and those with potential sleeping disorders were independently found to be at greater risk of sleeping while driving.

Those found to be at greater risk for drowsy driving include commercial drivers, people who work regular night shifts or long hours, drivers with sleep disorders, drivers who are taking sedating medications, and anyone who simply lacks adequate sleep.  The best remedy for drowsy driving is to get a good night’s sleep (seven to nine hours in most cases), refrain from alcohol use before driving, and, for those that require this, seek treatment for sleep disorders.  Napping can also be helpful.

Finally, recognizing the symptoms of drowsiness and taking appropriate action will lead to fewer accidents.  Drivers can pull over to rest or change drivers if driving with someone.  New driver assistance technologies, ranging from lane-departure warning systems to drowsiness alert systems (a technology pioneered by Mercedes-Benz) can also be helpful.