Nearly One-Third Of Drivers Admit To Driving While Half-Asleep: Survey

November 4, 2011

While drunk driving and distracted driving grab most of the headlines, new research shows that drowsy driving may be even more deadly than previously estimated.

According to the latest survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 96 percent of Americans say drowsy driving is unacceptable behavior, yet nearly one-third admit to driving during the past month while they were so sleepy they couldn’t keep their eyes open.

The frightening finding comes just in advance of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, November 6-12, hosted by the National Sleep Foundation.

This comes on the heels of last year’s AAA Foundation study, Asleep At The Wheel, which found that nearly one in six fatal crashes, one in eight crashes involving serious injury, and one in 14 of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed involved drowsy driving.

Drowsy driving isn’t anything to take lightly, as Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research points out, referring to Foundation findings that two out of five drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel at some point, and one in 10 saying they’d done so in the past year. “What’s so alarming is that over half of these drivers reported having fallen asleep while driving on high-speed roads,” said Nelson.

The 2010 study further found that 57 percent of the drowsy driving crashes involved the driver drifting into other lanes or going off the road, two out of three drivers involved in drowsy driving crashes were men, and younger drivers ages 16 to 24 were nearly twice as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash as drivers ages 40 to 59.

Watch out for these drowsy driving warning signs

The AAA Foundation and the National Sleep Foundation have some good advice for drivers of all ages when it comes to being able to recognize the signs and prevent drowsy driving.

You could be at risk for drowsy driving if any of the following occur:

  • You have trouble keeping your eyes open and focused.
  • You find yourself drifting from your lane or tailgating.
  • You frequently yawn or repeatedly rub your eyes.
  • You can’t keep your head up.
  • You find yourself daydreaming or having disconnected thoughts.
  • You miss signs or drive past your intended exit.
  • You drift off the road and hit the rumble strips.
  • You are unable to remember how far you have traveled or what landmarks or locations you have recently passed.
  • You feel restless and irritable.

Keep in mind that you don’t always recognize when you are sleepy. You might feel perfectly fine but you could still fall asleep at any time. It’s also not true that you can tell when you’re about to fall asleep or that just gulping coffee or caffeinated drinks will wake you up. If you do pull off the road to have some coffee, you have to allow 30 minutes for it to enter your bloodstream, and the effects only last about three hours. You could be drinking coffee at the wheel and still have “micro-sleeps,” tiny naps lasting just seconds. But if you are traveling at 65 miles per hour, you can travel more than 100 yards in three seconds. That’s long enough to crash.

Highway rest stop - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Highway rest stop - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Tips to drive alert and stay alive

Don’t be a victim of sleep deficit. Give yourself, your passengers, and others on the road the benefit of taking these precautions.

-      Never drive when you are sleepy. Long trips, especially, can be very tiring. Pull over and take a break.

-      Make sure to get sufficient sleep the night before driving, and, again, especially before embarking on a long trip. If you get less than six hours of sleep, you increase your risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Four hours of sleep is really dangerous.

-      Don’t work all day and then drive all night. Research shows that a driver who has been awake 20 or more hours is at high risk of falling asleep.

-      Travel at times when you are normally awake. Stay overnight instead of driving straight through to your ultimate destination.

-      Bring a passenger with you. He or she can watch you for any signs of fatigue. Ask your passenger sitting in the front seat to remain awake.

-      Take a power nap. Pull off the road to a safe place, such as a rest stop or a well-lit parking lot, and sleep for about 20 minutes. When you wake up, drink some coffee and walk around for a bit to thoroughly wake up before you resume your trip.

-      Take a break. Every couple of hours or 100 miles you should stop and take a break. Of course, if you start to feel tired, take that break sooner.

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