Study: Sleepy Drivers as Dangerous as Drunk Drivers

A lot of folks will be making long trips this holiday season to spend time with loved ones and ring in the New Year. Now, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has a warning for those who get behind the wheel with too little sleep: You are imperiling yourself and others the same as if you just downed four drinks. 

Prior studies by the foundation established that as many as 13 percent of all serious crashes and 21 percent of deadly crashes involved a driver who was tired. This newest research delves into quantifying the relationship between sleep and driving ability. What they discovered was fascinating – and disturbing.

Drivers who got less than four hours of sleep in the last 24 hours had a crash risk that was 11.5 times than someone who had gotten seven or more hours of sleep. That’s similar to drivers who have a blood-alcohol concentration of somewhere between 0.12 and 0.15 0 which is nearly twice the legal limit. Drivers who slept between 4 and 5 hours had a crash risk that was 4.3 times higher. That is akin to someone who has a blood-alcohol level that is just at or above the legal limit of 0.08. Those who were lucky enough to get between 5 and 7 hours had a crash risk that was 1.9 times higher. And even those who got at least six hours a night still had a crash risk that was 1.3 times higher.

Of course, this issue isn’t just a problem during the holidays. In the hustle of a go-go world, the reality is many people don’t get enough rest on a daily basis. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report approximately 35 percent of Americans get fewer than the recommended seven hours of shut-eye a night. Twelve percent say they are getting fewer than five hours of sleep daily. 

Study authors also note that the figures outlined here are low-ball estimates when it comes to outlining the scope of the problem. That’s because while researchers looked at a sample of 4,571 car accidents wherein law enforcement officials opined the cause to be drowsy driving, that figure did not include collisions that happened between midnight and 6 a.m. Information on those crashes was not available. However, we do know from previous studies that the effects of not getting enough sleep are amplified during that window of time, when the human body’s internal clock is pressing for sleep.

The report additionally examined whether a sudden change in one’s sleep schedule could contribute to a loss of sleep that could factor into a car accident. To do this, they looked at the crash rate of certain professions known to have varying sleep schedules: police officers, nurses and long-haul truckers. What they found was that these groups tended to have a crash rate that was 6 times higher than workers who did not have a fractured sleep schedule.

While approximately 97 percent of motorists responding to a survey indicated they believed it unacceptable and a threat to safety for drivers to operate a vehicle while very tired, a third of them admitted to doing just that in the last month.

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Additional Resources:

Sleep-deprived drivers have plenty in common with drunk drivers, Dec. 6, 2016, By Ashley Alsey III, The Washington Post