A study recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has shed new light on the number of “drowsy driving” incidents. “Drowsy driving,” or falling asleep behind the wheel is an underreported and dangerous issue on the roadways.
Because there is no definitive test to determine sleepiness behind the wheel, state reporting relies on driver self-reporting and police estimates. The NHTSA looked at motor vehicle accidents which resulted in fatalities across the U.S. during 2011. There were 29,757 fatal accidents reported; approximately 707 were assumed to be caused at least in part by drowsy driving. The NHTSA estimates that at least 100,000 police-reported crashes every year were caused by driver fatigue, but the real number may be quite higher.
According to a 205 poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of drivers (roughly 168 million people) admitted that they sometimes drive while drowsy, and approximately 103 million people admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel. Thirteen percent of those who admitted to sleeping behind the wheel reported that they did so at least once per month. Eleven million people reported that they had an auto accident or close call due to falling asleep behind the wheel or becoming too tired or sleepy to drive safely.
Sleep or fatigue-related car accidents are highest among adults with young children, late shift workers, and young adult males. Sleep deprivation has been found to greatly increase the risk of an accident; extreme sleepiness can be as dangerous, say researchers, as driving while inebriated. Individuals who sleep six-to-seven hours each night are twice as likely to be in accident as people who sleep eight-or-more hours per night. People who sleep less than five hours a night have a risk of four-to-five times that of individuals who sleep eight hours or more per night. A research study in Australia looked at people who were awake for 24 hours prior to driving and found that their level of fatigue caused them to drive impaired equal to a blood alcohol level of.08, the level considered legally drunk in the U.S.
Drivers may fall asleep at the wheel for as short a time as three or four seconds and not even know they have done so, behavior known as “microsleep.” Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel tend to do so while traveling along long, rural highways while moving at a high rate of speed. Most drowsy driving accidents or near accidents ten to occur between four a.m. and six a.m., between midnight and two a.m., and between 2 o’clock and four o’clock p.m.
Drowsiness while driving affects the reaction time and decision-making skills of the driver. If you or a loved one has been in an accident with a fatigued or drowsy driver, contact the personal injury lawyers at Hale Law Firm.