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Report: Drowsy Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving

impaired view of road

According to several media outlets, a new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety claims the less sleep a person gets, the higher the crash rate is on the roadways.

This may not seem like groundbreaking information, but would it surprise you to hear that drivers with only four or five hours of sleep had four times the crash rate of someone with seven or eight hours of sleep? For reference, drunk drivers are also four times as likely to be involved in a car wreck.

Less Sleep, More Wrecks

Twenty percent of fatal accidents in the United States involved a drowsy driver, according to previous research. The new report hoped to uncover to what extent poor sleep had on a driver’s ability to perform safely on the roadways. Findings suggest that receiving only five to six hours of sleep could double the likelihood of a car crash compared to drivers who get seven or more hours of sleep.

According to research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three Americans do not regularly get enough sleep. In addition, 12 percent of people say they sleep for five hours or less each night. These numbers are startling when coupled with the information revealed in the AAA report.

The AAA Foundation’s director says drivers cannot expect to function safely while driving if they did not have sufficient sleep. The report claims that the crash risk associated with sleeping less than four hours is comparable to that of a blood alcohol content (BAC) between .12 and .15 – the legal BAC limit is .08.

“You Really Shouldn’t be Behind the Wheel”

The data in the AAA Foundation report was drawn from police-reported crashes in which a vehicle required a tow from the scene or emergency crews were summoned. Drivers in these wrecks were asked how much sleep they received over the past 24 hours.

The director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research for AAA says people shouldn’t even be behind the wheel of a vehicle if less than seven hours of sleep was obtained over the past 24 hours.

Another piece of the report showed that drivers with changes in sleep schedules that hampered quality sleep, such as truck drivers, nurses, and police officers, were exposed to a six percent higher risk of crashes. Drivers are advised to take a nap every couple of hours during a long drive, especially if operating on insufficient amounts of sleep.

Researchers believe the risk of drowsy driving could actually be underestimated by the study, citing the lack of data on crashes that occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. According to the AAA report, the effects of sleep deprivation are greatest during the early morning hours.

Motor Vehicle Traffic Accidents Statistics

The following information regarding motor vehicle crashes is provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • In 2015, there were 35,092 people killed in crashes on United States roadways.
    • This is a 7.2 percent increase over 2014 – the largest increase in nearly 50 years.
  • An estimated 2.44 million people suffered from injuries in motor vehicle crashes in 2015.
  • Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities totaled 10,265 in 2015, a 3.2 percent increase from the previous year.
    • Fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers accounted for 29 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2015.
  • Distraction-affected crashes resulted in 3,477 fatalities in 2015.

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