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High Rates of Car Accidents Involving Drowsy Drivers

Could Drowsy Driving Be a Public Health Crisis?

Many of us have been on the road and have felt tired. But when we get behind the wheel without getting enough sleep, are we contributing to a public health crisis? According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, drowsy driving may be a much bigger problem than most of us would like to believe in terms of car accident statistics.

As the article explains, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that more than 72,000 auto accidents that occurred between 2009 and 2013 have involved drowsy drivers. That number is likely much smaller than the actual figure for drowsy drivers who cause traffic collisions. Experts suggest that the figure of 72,000 only includes police reports in which an officer recorded the involvement of a drowsy driver. In reality, it is likely that thousands more crashes occur because of drowsy driving, but the problem is not always noted in police reports.

Why do many accidents involving drowsy drivers go unreported by the police officers who arrive at the scene of the crash? It is often difficult to know whether fatigued driving caused a collision because there is “no sleep-a-lyzer test for drowsiness like the blood alcohol-level test for drunk drivers,” according to the article. Unlike crashes caused by distracted driving—in which a law enforcement officer may be able to see a driver texting on the highway—it is not easy to determine whether someone was too tired to be behind the wheel.

What can we do about drowsy driving? According to Dr. Mark Rosekind of NHTSA, more than one million car accidents and 8,000 fatalities may be attributable to drowsy driving every year. The article reports that around 56 million Americans admit that each month they get behind the wheel when they are either exhausted or have not had a sufficient night’s sleep. As such, we need to recognize that fatigued driving is “the public health issue that many believe it is and to bring to the campaign the same strategies that stigmatized drunk driving,” reported the Huffington Post.

Drowsy Driving Facts and Figures

What do you need to know about fatigued or drowsy driving? According to a fact sheet from the National Sleep Foundation, the following facts and figures underscore the seriousness of drowsy driving and the need to take preventive measures:

  • About 60% of adult drivers admit to driving while they were drowsy in the last year;
  • Around 37% of adult drivers—greater than one-third of all adult drivers on the road—admit that they have fallen asleep at the wheel in the last year;
  • Of the drivers who admit to falling asleep while driving, 13% admit to falling asleep behind the wheel “at least once a month”;
  • Drivers between the ages of 18-29 are more likely than drivers in other age groups to engage in fatigued driving;
  • Men are more likely to drive drowsy than are women;
  • Adults who have young children in their households are more likely to drive while drowsy; and
  • More than 25% of Americans who commute to and from work by car admit to driving drowsy while traveling to or from work “at least a few days a month.”

Always think before you drive- never get behind the wheel if you feel too tired to drive. If you begin falling asleep while on the road, protect yourself and others and get off the road until you feel ready to drive again.

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