Sleepy drivers may be causing more crashes than thought

February 8, 2018 by Alan Mozes, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—Driver fatigue causes many more car accidents in the United States than previously estimated, a new report suggests.

The finding comes from an analysis of several months' worth of video recordings taken of nearly 3,600 Americans while they were driving. During that time, participating drivers were involved in 700 accidents.

All participants' vehicles had been outfitted with a dash-cam video recorder. That allowed researchers to analyze each driver's face in the minutes right before crashing. The researchers also had video of the road scene in front of the drivers.

Together, the footage suggested that the percentage of accidents involving sleepy drivers was about eight times higher than current federal estimates.

The finding was highlighted in a report released Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The foundation describes the investigation into as the most in-depth of its kind to date.

"Driver drowsiness is a notoriously difficult problem to quantify because it typically doesn't leave behind evidence that a police officer can observe after the fact when investigating a —in contrast to alcohol, for example," said Brian Tefft, a senior research associate with the foundation in Washington, D.C.

"Thus, we expected that our study would find that the problem was substantially bigger than the official statistics from the U.S. DOT [Department of Transportation] suggest," he said. "But we were still surprised by just how many crashes we found to involve driver drowsiness in our study."

The study found that "approximately 10 percent of all involve ," Tefft said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one-third of American drivers aren't getting the minimum seven hours of daily sleep that experts recommend.

A recent AAA survey found that nearly three in 10 said that in the past month they'd been so exhausted while driving that they weren't able to keep their eyes open at some point.

To identify driver fatigue during , the researchers examined video taken during the one-to-three minute period preceding each accident. They then tallied the amount of time each driver's eyes were closed in that timeframe.

Drivers were deemed to have been "drowsy" if their eyes stayed closed for more than 12 percent of the time.

The study team concluded that current federal estimates—which link 1 to 2 percent of all car crashes to driver fatigue—woefully underestimate the dimension of the driving-while-tired problem.

"Our previous research has shown that a driver's risk of crashing increases significantly when they don't get at least seven hours of sleep, and climbs to levels similar to the crash risk of a drunk driver after missing more than two to three hours of sleep over a 24-hour period," Tefft said.

The bottom line, he said, is to make getting enough sleep a priority.

Tefft also suggested that people try to drive only at times when they're usually awake and avoid taking medications that make them sleepy. On long trips, he said, consider taking roadside naps or traveling with someone who can share the driving.

David Reich is public relations director for The National Road Safety Foundation in New York City. "Many in the field have long suspected the incidence of drowsy driving is much higher than official reports indicate," he said.

"We are pleased to see that automakers are beginning to include technology that can help avoid drowsy driving," Reich added. These include "sensors that monitor eye movement, and lane-departure warnings that give an audio or other sensory warning—like a vibration in the steering wheel—to wake the driver," he explained.

"Technology, coupled with more public education, can have a positive impact, Reich said.

Russ Martin, director of government relations with the Governors Highway Safety Association in Washington, D.C., agreed that the findings aren't unexpected.

Still, they're "unsettling," he said.

"With drowsy driving, as with many traffic safety issues, there's no silver bullet," Martin said. However, he agreed that wider use of technology could help reduce fatigue-related crashes. He also urged greater efforts to raise public awareness about the problem.

"As traffic fatalities have risen over the past two years, we need to be looking at all dangerous driver behaviors and consider how we can eliminate them," Martin said.

Explore further: Eye tracking might help reduce driver drowsiness

More information: Brian Tefft, senior research associate, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Washington, D.C.; David Reich, public relations director, The National Road Safety Foundation, New York City; Russ Martin, director, government relations, Governors Highway Safety Association, Washington, D.C.; AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, report, Feb. 8, 2018.

The National Sleep Foundation has tips on how to combat drowsy driving.

Related Stories

Eye tracking might help reduce driver drowsiness

February 6, 2018
A new way of detecting driver drowsiness by tracking eye movement could help reduce the road toll, a world-first study has found.

New drowsy driving position statement calls for greater public awareness, education

November 17, 2015
A new position statement from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine warns that drowsy driving is a serious public health concern requiring greater public awareness and increased efforts to improve preventive education.

Drowsy driving causes 1 in 5 fatal crashes: report

August 8, 2016
(HealthDay)—Nearly 84 million sleep-deprived Americans take to the roads every day. And, drowsy driving was a factor in crashes that claimed about 5,000 lives last year, a new report shows.

Missing just one hour of sleep may double drivers' crash risk

December 6, 2016
(HealthDay)—Missing just an hour or two of sleep at night nearly doubles your chances of a car crash the next day, a new report suggests.

Keeping your driving teen focused on the road

October 24, 2017
(HealthDay)—A 17-year-old Minnesota teen runs a red light, killing a father and his 10-year-old daughter.

Recommended for you

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Can sleeping too much lead to an early death?

August 15, 2018
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has led to headlines that will make you rethink your Saturday morning sleep in.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.