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Study Reveals Drowsy Driving 8 Times Higher Than Federal Estimates

Nearly 1 in 3 drivers admits to driving while drowsy, study finds

It’s late in the afternoon. You’re just getting off your eight-hour shift. As you start your 30-minute commute home, your afternoon caffeine crash starts to kick in. You find yourself yawning a lot. A few minutes later, your eyelids become increasingly heavy. A few minutes after that, your attention span begins to drift.

Then comes a nod of the head, a sudden jolt. You fell asleep for a few seconds. No big surprise. You stayed up late last night, woke up at the crack of dawn and worked for eight hours. That extra-large coffee you drank this morning was barely enough to keep you alert for the entire day. But you shake it off as if it’s no big deal. You’re now less than 10 minutes from home and you’re confident you can finish the final stretch of your commute.

But falling asleep at the wheel is absolutely a big deal. That split second of nodding off can cost you your life or put others on the road in danger. Drowsy driving is a common dilemma that many responsible drivers regularly face. In today’s fast-paced world, where people are working longer hours and juggling life’s responsibilities, a good night’s sleep has become less of a priority.

A 2013 Gallup poll concludes that fewer Americans today are getting enough sleep. Medical experts recommend a range of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But at the time of the poll, roughly 40 percent of Americans slept six hours or less, resulting in an overall average of 6.8 hours of sleep per person.

New study reveals shocking statistics

Many drivers know that at some point, they have been guilty of drowsy driving. However, since drowsy driving is difficult to track, the facts and statistics have never been accurately tallied up. At least not until the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently revealed the staggering numbers through careful research.

Previous federal estimates concluded that drowsy driving resulted in 1 to 2 percent of auto accidents nationwide. But video footage of everyday drivers, extracted by AAA, reveals that drowsy driving is the culprit behind 9.5 percent of all crashes.

These statistics were determined by the last three minutes leading up to a crash. For crashes caused by drowsy driving, video footage captured drivers’ eyes closing within that three-minute period. Additionally, a total 29 percent of drivers polled by AAA admitted to driving while drowsy. This means that at any given moment, a driver could be nodding off behind the wheel on the road around you.

Warning signs of drowsy driving

If you’re fully alert, then it’s very unlikely that you’re going to fall asleep behind the wheel. However, there are some signs that it may be time to pull over and take a nap. Failure to do so can result in delays in reaction time, decreased awareness and impaired judgement.

The following symptoms are warning signs that you’re about to drift off:

  • Heavy eyelids and difficulty keeping eyes open
  • Losing memory of last few miles driven
  • Inability to focus
  • Veering out of your lane
  • Constant yawning

Who is most at risk of drowsy driving?

According to, those who fall asleep at the wheel typically meet specific demographics. While anyone can be at risk of drowsy driving, there are certain habits, professions and disorders that can greatly increase the chances of nodding off. This can include:

  • Younger people, especially males, ages 16 to 26 are at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Drivers in this age group tend to stay up later or even pull “all-nighters.” They’re also more likely to take risks, even when the dangers of drowsy driving are present.
  • Commercial truck drivers often spend long hours on the road. For this reason, truckers are at a high risk of drowsy driving, especially without adequate rest. Luckily, a federal mandate has put a cap on the number of hours truckers can spend on the road. This limit is currently being enforced by electronic logging devices (ELDs), which prevent truckers from misrepresenting the number of hours they spend on the road.
  • Employees who work night shifts or rotating shifts increase their chances of drowsy driving six-fold. Working overnight shifts, or rotating between day and night shifts, can throw off a worker’s circadian rhythm.
  • People with sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea or narcolepsy are at seven times greater risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
  • Those who travel for business are likely to spend long hours on the road. Business travelers are also at a high risk of experiencing jet lag, which can result from traveling across time zones.

Best prevention – adequate rest

The most effective way to prevent drowsy driving is to get enough sleep. Typically, you should get no less than seven hours of sleep per night. If you’re unable to do so, it’s advisable that you take a nap at some point throughout the day, perhaps during your break.

If you’re traveling a long distance, it’s important that you stop and take frequent rests. The ideal rest time for lengthy trips is either every two hours or every 100 miles. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, and never attempt to drive longer than your body’s capacity to do so.

It’s also best that you don’t drive between the hours of midnight and 6 AM. Your body runs on a biological clock, which is known as your circadian rhythm. This programs your natural time of wakefulness and tiredness. Your body naturally wants to sleep between midnight and 6 AM, as well as between 1 PM and 5 PM.

A cup of coffee only offers a limited burst of wakefulness. In an emergency situation, caffeine won’t prevent you from dozing off, as it takes about 30 minutes to enter your bloodstream. Even then, the effects only last a few hours.

Don’t drive alone. Bringing a passenger along for the ride may keep you alert longer. More importantly, your passenger can take over the wheel while you catch some sleep.

Always avoid alcohol before getting behind the wheel. Not only does alcohol delay your reaction time and impair your judgement, it can also cause you to fall asleep, especially if you’re already tired. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications should also be avoided before driving. Medications for the common cold or anxiety can cause you to become drowsy.

Additional steps you can take

Our state of wakefulness and tiredness isn’t something we can choose. It’s never worth the risk to try to “stick it out” until you reach your destination. If you can find a rest stop, it’s best to just pull over. Walk around and get some fresh air. Even a 10-minute nap may be enough to keep you alert for the remainder of your drive. The last thing you should do is take a chance at causing a devastating crash.

If you notice another driver veering out of his or her lane, keep your distance. Sometimes an accident with a drowsy driver can be unavoidable. You could be sitting in traffic or at a stop light and be struck from behind by a sleepy driver. These accidents can often be catastrophic, since the at-fault driver is unable to slow down or react to avoid a crash.

In the event of an auto accident caused by drowsy driving, you need an experienced attorney on your side. For decades, attorney Richard E. Lewis has served the greater Spokane area. He is dedicated to helping auto accident victims and their families pursue the justice they deserve.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation and find out how we can help you.


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Richard E. Lewis, P.S.

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Suite 201
Spokane, WA 99201

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