The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses. These figures may be the tip of the iceberg, since currently it is difficult to attribute crashes to sleepiness.
- There is no test to determine sleepiness as there is for intoxication, i.e. a “Breathalyzer”.
- State reporting practices are inconsistent. There is little or no police training in identifying drowsiness as a crash factor. Every state currently addresses fatigue and/or sleepiness in some way in their crash report forms. However, the codes are inconsistent and two states (Missouri and Wisconsin) do not have specific codes for fatigue and/or fell asleep.
- Self-reporting is unreliable.
- Drowsiness/fatigue may play a role in crashes attributed to other causes such as alcohol. About one million such crashes annually are thought to be produced by driver inattention/lapses.
- According to data from Australia, England, Finland, and other European nations, all of whom have more consistent crash reporting procedures than the U.S., drowsy driving represents 10 to 30 percent of all crashes.
Who is at Risk?
Sleep related crashes are most common in young people, especially men, adults with children and shift workers.
- Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a sleep-related crash; the less people sleep, the greater the risk.
- According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in such a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more, while people sleeping less than 5 hours increased their risk four to five times.
- A study by researchers in Australia showed that being awake for 18 hours produced an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours; .08 is considered legally drunk.
- Other research indicates commercial drivers and people with undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and acute insomnia are also at greater risk for fall asleep crashes.
Sleep deprivation and fatigue make lapses of attention more likely to occur, and may play a role in behavior that can lead to crashes attributed to other causes.
Drowsy Driving Crashes Can Result in High Personal and Economic Costs
- Several drowsy driving incidents have resulted in jail sentences for the driver.
- Multi-million dollar settlements have been awarded to families of crash victims as a result of lawsuits filed against individuals as well as businesses whose employees were involved in drowsy driving crashes.