AAA Study: Driving drowsy quadruples chances of getting in a crash

Posted at 6:33 AM, Feb 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-08 11:46:53-05

Getting behind the wheel when you're tired can be just as dangerous for you and others on the road as driving drunk.

That's according to new numbers just released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In a new study, AAA found that about 9.5% of all crashes involve drowsiness. That number is nearly eight times higher than previous federal estimates. Researchers say it's one of the most underreported problems for traffic safety. And it's because it's often tough to detect. 

So the new study used dashcam video of about 700 crashes; researchers analyzed the drivers' faces for three minutes leading up to each crash to see when the drivers' eyes were closed.

“Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk," says Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "By conducting an in-depth analysis using video of everyday drivers, we can now better assess if a driver was fatigued in the moments leading up to a crash.”

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only 35% of drivers in the United States gets the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.

“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” says Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA. “But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

AAA is now urging drivers everywhere not to rely on your bodies for warning signs that you're drowsy.

Traffic safety advocates recommend drivers do the following:

  • Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

And on longer drives, you should: 

  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving 
  • Do not underestimate the power of a quick nap. Pulling into a rest stop and taking a quick catnap -- at least 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes of sleep -- can help to keep you alert on the road. 

“Don’t be fooled, the only antidote for drowsiness is sleep,” says William Van Tassel, manager of Driver Training for AAA. “Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, rolling down the window will not work. Your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.”

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