Drivers 19-24 Still Nodding Off Behind The Wheel, Says AAA

November 4, 2013

Younger drivers might be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but it might only be because of the energy drinks they're gulping down to counter chronic fatigue and stay alert behind the wheel.

One year later and not much difference in the behavior of younger drivers ages 19-24 – they’re still the most likely to drive drowsy at 33 percent, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In all, says the AAA, one in four drivers struggles to stay awake behind the wheel. The oldest drivers (ages 75 and up) and the youngest drivers (ages 16-18) were the least likely to say they’d driven while drowsy in the past month, at 33 percent each.

What is startling about the study is that some 95 percent of respondents said they believe it is “somewhat or completely unacceptable” to drive when they can’t keep their eyes open. Eighty-three percent, or eight in 10, think that drowsy drivers pose a “somewhat or very serious threat” to their personal safety.

The threat to personal safety is actually threefold. Driving while fatigued is dangerous because it slows reaction time, impairs vision, and causes lapses in judgment – similar to driving drunk. “Many drivers [are] underestimating the problem of driving while extremely tired, and overestimating their ability to deal with it,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

He added that people can’t reliably predict when they’re going to fall asleep, and a very fatigued driver “may fall asleep for several seconds without even realizing it.”

Data from a 2010 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found an estimated 17 percent of fatal crashes, 13 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and seven percent of all crashes requiring a tow involved drowsy driving.

Is it normal that younger people are sleepier during their daily tasks, or does it say something about our society that they're always running on empty? Let us know what you're thinking in your comments below.

Sleepy driver - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Sleepy driver - AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Protect yourself: recognize these simple signs of fatigue

Be more self-aware and take precautions if you experience any of these signs:

  • You are not able to recall the last few miles driven
  • If you experience disconnected or wandering thoughts
  • When you have trouble focusing or cannot keep your eyes open
  • When your head feels very heavy
  • If you find yourself drifting out of the driving lane, hitting rumble strips on the pavement
  • Tailgating other vehicles by accident
  • Repeated yawning
  • Missing traffic signs

Taking decisive action when driver fatigue is evident is the best way to prevent an unfortunate or tragic accident. The AAA recommends the following:

  • Get plenty of sleep. This is the best preventive approach. Be sure to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep, especially the night prior to before taking a long drive.
  • Drive during normal waking hours. Driving at times when you’d normally be asleep isn’t conducive to being safe behind the wheel. Make it a point to only drive when you are usually awake.
  • Steer clear of medication. Many meditations contain ingredients that may cause drowsiness. It’s best not to take such medication before getting in the car and driving.
  • Bring along a friend. If at all possible, travel with someone who can serve as a co-pilot and alert you to any signs of impending fatigue, or spell you at the wheel when you need to rest.
  • Don’t eat heavy meals. A full stomach may make you sleepy or otherwise less alert, so the experts recommend only eating a light meal before starting a trip.
  • See a doctor for chronic fatigue or insomnia. If you are having problems being able to sleep through the night or experience chronic fatigue, see a doctor.

For more information about drowsy driving, see the National Sleep Foundation’s drowsy driving website.


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