Science sheds light on just how dangerous fatigued drivers are

This article looks at a number of studies into drowsy driving, including the crash risk of sleep loss.

Many people do not get nearly as much sleep as they should, with an estimated one out of three Americans regularly getting by on less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. While many people believe they can simply "power through" a lack of sleep, what they don't often appreciate is how dangerous sleep loss can be for them and for others, especially when they get behind the wheel of a car or truck. A growing body of research is shedding some much needed light on how many motor vehicle accidents are caused by drowsy driving each year and why more needs to be done to address the problem.

Crash risk from driving drowsy

Driving while tired is often compared to driving while drunk. Both drunk and drowsy drivers exhibit many of the same behaviors, such as trouble staying within their lanes, inconsistent speeds, and aggressiveness. One AAA Foundation study tried to quantify just how dangerous driving while drowsy really is by analyzing the national survey results of people who were involved in a crash.

As NPR reports, that study was able to conclude that for every one to two hours of sleep drivers missed the night before, their crash risk doubled. So a driver who got only five hours of sleep in a 24-hour period was twice as likely to be involved in a crash as somebody who got the recommended seven hours of sleep. Drivers who got only four to five hours of sleep, meanwhile, had a crash rate similar to what drunk drivers have.

The extent of the problem

Given how many Americans regularly get by without enough sleep, it is clear that drowsy driving is a widespread problem. However, quantifying just how widespread it is can be surprisingly difficult. As USA Today reports, each state has its own definition of what constitutes drowsy driving and many crash reports are incomplete as regards fatigued driving. Furthermore, many people who cause a crash because they are tired are often less than willing to admit to that fact to police.

However, even with these limitations in mind there is enough data to show how extensive drowsy driving accidents are. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, suggests that about 20 percent of all accidents are caused by drowsy drivers. The AAA Foundation, meanwhile, estimates that at least 328,000 accidents, including 6,400 fatal ones, each year are caused by driver fatigue.

Personal injury law

Those figures are astonishingly high and they should give all drivers reason to reflect on just how dangerous being on the road can be. For those who have been hurt in a car accident, including in an accident that may have been caused by a drowsy driver, it is essential to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. In many cases crash victims may be entitled to financial compensation and an experienced attorney can show such victims how to go about making an effective claim.