Drowsy driving crash rate 8 times higher than estimated, study shows

ST. GEORGE  – A groundbreaking study released this month found that the number of crashes involving drowsy driving is eight times higher than federal estimates.

The study was conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and is “the most in-depth drowsy driving research ever conducted in the U.S.,” according to a statement released by the foundation earlier this month.

“Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show,” Dr. David Yang, the foundation’s executive director, said.

The report shows that drowsy driving is one of the most underreported traffic safety issues, according to AAA, primarily because of the difficulty involved in detecting drowsiness following a crash as the physical state is no longer present.

The federally funded study recruited nearly 3,600 drivers from six study sites across the U.S. that were monitored continually using in-vehicle video and other data-collection equipment while driving their personal vehicles over several months.

Watch clips of drowsy drivers from the study in the video at the top of this report. 

Researchers analyzed more than 700 crashes using dashcam video that provided a bird’s-eye view of the collisions recorded in real time.

Chart shows the effects of lack of sleep | Image courtesy of Utah Department of Public Safety, St. George News

By examining video of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash, researchers were able to scientifically measure a driver’s level of drowsiness by the percentage of time a driver’s eyes were closed.

Their findings showed that more than 9 percent of all crashes and nearly 11 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness.

Impact of drowsy driving in Utah

In Utah, 21 people lost their lives in crashes that involved a drowsy driver in 2016, a year that experienced an increase in traffic deaths for the ninth straight year, with 280 occupants killed and another 1,270 injured, according to a report released by the Utah Department of Public Safety in February 2017.

Previously, federal estimates showed that drowsiness is a factor in only 1-to-2 percent of crashes, and the Utah crash report has similar findings – showing that 2 percent of all crashes involved a drowsy driver in 2016.

The Utah report also shows that more than 9 percent of all crashes reported between midnight and 6 a.m. involved a drowsy driver. Drivers between the ages of 15-24 had the highest number of drowsy driver crashes. Males were nearly twice as likely to drive drowsy as females.

Over the last 10 years, at least 187 individuals have been killed in drowsy driving crashes in Utah.

The difference a few less hours of sleep makes

Michael Blasky, spokesman for AAA Utah, compared drowsy driving to drunk driving. He said:

As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can seem harmless. 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.

These findings are not surprising, considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily.

Signs of Drowsy Driving | Image courtesy of Utah Department of Public Safety, St. George News

A recent survey by the AAA Foundation showed similar results from those surveyed about their driving over the previous month. Nearly 30 percent of those drivers admitted to driving while they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point.

“Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk,” Yang said. “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.”

Being aware of the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid nodding off behind the wheel.

The most common signs of drowsiness include the following:

  • Difficulty keeping eyes open.
  • Inability to maintain lane travel.
  • No memory of the last few miles driven.

A lack of sleep can only be remedied by sleeping, and short term approaches, including drinking coffee, rolling down the window or singing, are ineffective, according to AAA. Instead, AAA recommends the following precautionary measures for drivers:

  • Drive during normal waking hours.
  • Avoid heavy foods.
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.

Further, drivers taking longer trips are urged to schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles, travel with a passenger and take turns driving. Pulling into a rest stop and taking at least a 20-minute catnap – not longer than 30 minutes – can help with alertness on the road.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit, publicly-funded, charitable research and educational organization, launched in 1947 with the focus on preventing traffic deaths and injuries by conducting research into their causes. The organization is also involved in educating the public about strategies to prevent crashes and reduce injuries when they do occur, using their research to develop educational materials for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users.

For more information, go to AAAFoundation.org.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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