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The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) released a study in November 2015 entitled “Prevalence of Self-Reported Drowsy Driving, United States: 2015.” Results showed that nearly a third of all drivers reported driving at least once within the last 30 days when they were so sleepy that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

More than two in five drivers admitted to having fallen asleep while driving at least once in their lives, and over 17 percent reported having done so three or more times. Ten percent reported having done so within the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has announced that they are kicking off a new national drowsy driving initiative to increase awareness of the problem and potentially find ways to reduce the risks.

Drowsy Driving a Factor in Vehicle Crashes

The AAA conducted the study to “provide updated estimates of the prevalence of self-reported drowsy driving.” They note that though other surveys, such as the one completed by the NHTSA in 2002, have found over 35 percent of drivers driving while fatigued, data from police reports has continually put drowsiness as a factor in crashes only one to four percent of the time.

“However, more recent studies have estimated that the actual prevalence is much higher,” the AAA states. They analyzed data from a sample of crashes that were subject to in-depth investigations, and found that how drowsy the drivers were was reported as “unknown” in over half the cases. They also refer to a 2014 study that estimated 21 percent of fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver.

For their own study, the AAA surveyed U.S. residents 16 years and older from July 28, 2015 through August 12, 2015. Just over 2,500 people responded to the questionnaire. Results showed the following:

• 31.5 percent reported driving while so tired they couldn’t keep their eyes open in the last 30 days
• 3.5 percent said they did so regularly
• Drivers ages 19-24 were most likely to report having done so at least once in the last 30 days (39.6 percent)
• Drivers aged 25-39 were most likely to do so fairly often (5.3 percent)
• 43.2 percent admitted to having fallen asleep while driving at least once in their lives
• 17.4 percent admitted to having done so three or more times
• Drivers who reported sleeping less than 6 hours a day at least once a week were more likely to have reported falling asleep at the wheel in the past year than those who regularly got more than 6 hours of sleep a day

AAA Urges Increased Public Education About Drowsy Driving

Perhaps most surprising about the study results was the fact that 97 percent of respondents said that it was “unacceptable” to drive while feeling so fatigued, yet nearly a third admitted to having done it. The AAA also noted that even these reports may be low, considering the fact that drivers may underestimate their own sleepiness, or may remain unaware of actually having fallen asleep at the wheel if they didn’t crash because of it.

A 2014 study found that as many as 6,400 fatal crashes each year are likely to involve a drowsy driver. The AAA urged more educational programs to help increase the awareness of the dangers.

Drowsy Drivers May be Held Liable in a Motor Vehicle Crash

The National Sleep Foundation notes in their fact sheet about drowsy driving that drivers should be aware of signs of sleepiness, including trouble focusing, difficulty keeping their eyes open, yawning or rubbing their eyes, drifting in their lane, tailgating, or turning up the radio or rolling down a window to stay awake.

Drivers experiencing these symptoms are at risk, and should pull over immediately to a safe place to rest. Not doing so increases a risk of a crash, and drivers can be held liable for failing to get adequate sleep.

The NHTSA hosted a forum during “National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week” (November 1-8, 2015) to launch their initiative. They brought together experts from a wide range of fields to “discuss research and program objectives, consider priority public policy needs, stimulate connections between diverse stakeholders, and identify core public education needs to address the risks, consequences and countermeasures related to drowsy driving.”

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