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The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

AAA: 21 Percent of Fatal Crashes Linked to Drowsy Driving

November 03, 2014

Photo courtesy of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Photo courtesy of AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has concluded that more than one in five (21 percent) fatal crashes involve driver fatigue.

Additionally, the study estimates that drowsy driving plays a role in 13 percent of crashes that result in a person requiring hospitalization and 7 percent of crashes requiring treatment for injuries.

These study results, the organization said, help confirm what safety experts have long suspected: The prevalence of drowsy driving is much greater than official statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) currently indicate. 

“This new research further confirms that drowsy driving is a serious traffic safety problem,” warned Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Unfortunately, drivers often underestimate this risk and overestimate their ability to combat drowsiness behind the wheel.”

The report also found that one-third of crashes involving a drowsy driver result in injuries and more than 6,000 fatigue-related crashes each year result in at least one fatality.

Previous research from the AAA Foundation revealed that young adult drivers, ages 19-24, are the most likely to admit to driving while drowsy, with 33 percent reporting doing so in the last month. In contrast, the oldest drivers (ages 75+) and the youngest (ages 16-18) were the least likely to report the same offense.

“Despite the fact that 95 percent of Americans deem it ‘unacceptable’ to drive when they are so tired that they have a hard time keeping their eyes open, more than 28 percent admit to doing so in the last month,” Kissinger said. “Like other impairments, driving while drowsy is not without risk.”

AAA urges drivers to understand the warning signs of drowsy driving:

  • The inability to recall the last few miles traveled
  • Having disconnected or wandering thoughts
  • Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
  • Feeling as though your head is very heavy
  • Drifting out of your driving lane, perhaps driving on the rumble strips
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Accidentally tailgating other vehicles
  • Missing traffic signs. 

AAA urges drivers to find a safe place to pull over if they experience any of the drowsy driving symptoms.

To remain alert and be safer behind the wheel, AAA suggests:

  • Get plenty of sleep (at least seven hours), especially the night before a long drive
  • Drive at times when you are normally awake
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment
  • Consult with a sleep specialist or other medical professional if you have trouble getting enough rest or are chronically fatigued.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Prevalence of Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Drowsy Drivers report is based on the analysis of a representative sample of 14,268 crashes that occurred in years 2009-2013 in which at least one vehicle was towed from the scene. Click here to download the full report. 

AAA is highlighting the risks of drowsy driving in support of the National Sleep Foundation’s Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, which runs Nov. 2-9. 

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