Driver fatigue and/or drowsy driving can be factors that prove just as dangerous as those related to drinking and driving. The cumulative effects of driver fatigue, our Indianapolis car accident attorney details, are what ultimately cause a person to be less attentive, exhibit erratic driving patterns, and in worst-case scenarios, fall asleep behind the wheel. Statistics on driver fatigue indicate that the problem is one that should be taken seriously by all drivers, especially those who regularly sleep less than seven hours a night.
AAA Foundation Research
In a 2016 study, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety makes a direct connection for the first time between sleep deprivation and motor vehicle crashes. Their study found a significantly elevated crash risk for drivers who slept less than seven hours a night. Crash risks increased as follows:
- Drivers who reported sleeping five to six hours a night had almost double the risk of drivers who got more than seven hours of sleep.
- When drivers slept between four and five hours a night, their risk of a crash was 4.3 times that of a rested driver.
- Drivers getting less than four hours of sleep a night had an increased crash risk of 11.5 times that of non-fatigued drivers.
The study also makes a direct correlation between the amount of sleep a driver gets and the equivalent in blood alcohol content (BAC). They found that:
- People driving on four to five hours of sleep have similar crash risks to drivers with a BAC of .08.
- Drivers with less than four hours of sleep have the same crash risk as drivers with a BAC of .12 to .15.
While the risks of driving while fatigued have long been known, this new study provides concrete details on just how much your risk of crashing is affected by the amount of sleep you get.
How Big Is the Problem?
It is difficult if not impossible to know exactly how many crashes involve a drowsy driver, as there is no hard evidence that can be collected at the scene. Data on drowsy driving crashes comes from police observations and admissions from drivers, so many of these crashes go unreported. However, the following statistics take this into account in their estimations of just how big the problem is:
- According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatigue and falling asleep at the wheel causes an estimated 100,000 car accidents each year.
- According to a Farmers Insurance study, about ten percent of the population has fallen asleep behind the wheel in the past and 20 percent of the population has momentarily dozed off while driving. (Half of the respondents admitted to driving while tired.)
- About 1,500 people are killed in fatigue-related car accidents every year and another 71,000 people are injured in such accidents.
- The cost of falling asleep behind the wheel is $12.5 billion per year--this includes property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and lost productivity.
- Men are more likely to drive fatigued and fall asleep at the wheel than women.
Perhaps the most tragic thing about drowsy driving accidents is that they are absolutely and completely preventable. If you are feeling sleepy while behind the wheel, it is vital that you understand that you could be a danger to yourself as well as others on the road. You are an impaired driver and your chances of causing a crash have increased significantly!
Tips to Prevent Drowsy and Fatigued Driving
While many people try to stay awake with tactics such as turning up the music, turning off the heater, or rolling down a window, these methods have not been proven to be effective. There are several ways that you can help prevent drowsy driving:
- Don’t drive between midnight and 5 a.m. Most fatigued driving accidents take place either late at night or early in the morning when most people are programmed to be asleep. Avoid the road during these times.
- Leave time for breaks. If planning a road trip, don’t rush to your destination. Schedule time for coffee breaks, meals, and even short naps. Don’t drive more than 100 miles without a break from the road.
- Look for signs of fatigue. Is your mind wandering? Are your eyelids becoming heavy? Are you having trouble concentrating on the road? Don’t wait until you nod off. Get off the road immediately and get some rest.
- Beware of cruise control. Cruise control can be a great feature in some cases, but in others, it can give your mind and body an excuse to rest and relax while behind the wheel. If you aren’t engaged in the act of driving, you may be more likely to doze.
- Get an appropriate amount of sleep! Too many of us are running on less than adequate sleep, and the dangerous reality is that we often don't even realize we're in need of rest. Experts recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, while young adults and adolescents get nine to 10 hours of sound sleep.
For some people, lack of sleep is a simple reality of their lives. If you believe you are suffering from a sleep disorder, or are unable to stay asleep during the nighttime hours, seek a consultation with your doctor to address the matter and understand that you are taking risks when you drive.
Signs a Person Is Driving Drowsy or Fatigued
The most dangerous thing about drowsy driving is that people often aren’t even aware that they are fatigued. It is important to be alert to signs that it is time to take a break, including the following:
- Frequent yawning or blinking.
- Trouble remembering the past few miles.
- Missing your exit or turn-off.
- Jerking or driving your car back into your lane.
- Hitting rumble strips on the side of the road.
What should you do if you are getting sleepy while driving? Safety experts recommend pulling over immediately and stopping for the night. If you are unable to stop for a long period of time, pull over in a safe place for a short nap followed by a cup of coffee. Absolutely do not continue driving until you have rested.