We all know driving can be dangerous. All those news reports, public service announcements and hashtags around dangers like drunk driving and texting while driving make sure of that. But there is one risk that is just starting to get the recognition it deserves – drowsy driving. The Governors Highway Safety Association partnered with State Farm Insurance to release a report Monday on the deleterious effects of driving while tired. It’s not pretty. The GHSA found driving tired can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
Researchers estimate that there are 328,000 crashes each year involving drowsy driving. Of those crashes an average of 6,400 involved fatalities. The researchers also found that the sleepier the driver, the worse their driving. Going 24 hours without sleep was found to be comparable to a .10 percent blood alcohol level.
It’s an incredibly common problem. The study found 84 million Americans drive tired every day. A 2015 AAA report referenced by the GHSA study found one in seven drivers admit to nodding off while driving at least once in their lives. A startling one third of drivers admitted to driving drowsy at least once a month in that study. Young people were found to be the worse offenders. More than 50 percent of drowsy driving crashes involved drivers 25 years old or younger.
Inebriated drivers are still the biggest threat on the road. Drunk driving accounted for 9,967 fatalities in 2014, or 31 percent of all fatal crashes according to the Centers for Disease Control. The study puts deaths due to drowsy driving between 2 and 20 percent of all traffic fatalities. That’s quiet a wide margin, but the researchers cite some reasons as to why that number is probably low. Drowsy driving crashes are harder to pin down. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel tend to have foggy memories due to fatigue. Police are generally not well trained to look for signs of drowsy driving as they are for drunk driving.
To avoid drowsy driving, the GHSA suggests teens get 8 to 10 hours of sleep and adults 7 to 9 hours of sleep before driving. They also advise that drivers avoid driving alone, and try not to start out trips in the early hours of the morning or early afternoon when people tend to be least alert and most tired.