Drowsy driving blamed for 20% of fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year

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We know distracted driving can take many forms including texting and calling while driving, drunken driving, driving under influence of drugs and now drowsy driving is also taking a huge toll on U.S. roadways with as many as 20 per cent of fatal crashes being attributed to this form of distracted driving.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as many as 35 per cent people who drive in the U.S. are not sleeping for the recommended seven hours daily and with one in five fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year, the AAA is warning that drowsy driving is becoming a major issue on roadways.

According to AAA [PDF], drivers who are missing 2-3 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period are at quadruple the risk of a crash compared to drivers getting the recommended seven hours of sleep. If we compare this risk to the risk while driving over the legal limit for alcohol – they are the same.

AAA notes in the report that those who sleep for six to seven hours in 24 hours are at 1.3 times the crash risk compared to those who sleep for the recommended number of hours, while those who sleep for less than four hours in 24 hours are at a whopping 11.5 times the crash risk.

Almost all of those surveyed for the report agree that drowsy driving is completely unacceptable behavior and that it is a serious threat to their safety, but over 30 per cent of the people surveyed admitted that at least once in the past month they drove when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

Drowsy Driving Symptoms

Symptoms of drowsy driving can include having trouble keeping eyes open; drifting from lanes or not remembering the last few miles driven; inability to keep your head up; daydreaming or having wandering, disconnected thoughts; yawning frequently or rubbing your eyes repeatedly; missing signs or driving past your intended exit; feeling irritable and restless; and being unable to remember how far you have traveled or what you have recently passed.

However, more than half of drivers involved in fatigue-related crashes experienced no symptoms before falling asleep behind the wheel.

AAA urges drivers to not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs of fatigue and should instead prioritize getting plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) in their daily schedules. For longer trips, drivers should also:

  • Travel at times when 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

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