While trying to juggle all the demands of our daily lives, it can be easy to skimp on sleep. But that has numerous negative effects – including putting yourself and others at risk on the road, and according to new information from AAA, crashes involving drowsy driving are a bigger threat than many realize.
The most in-depth drowsy driving research ever conducted in the U.S. using footage of everyday drivers found that the percentage of crashes involving drowsiness is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates indicate, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues. The new research provides an unprecedented analysis of in-vehicle dashcam video from more than 700 crashes, confirming that the danger of drowsy driving soars above official estimates.
"A drowsy driver can oftentimes be just as dangerous as a drunk driver," said Theresa Podguski, AAA East Central director of legislative affairs. "According to the latest in-depth information to be released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the dangers of drowsy driving are more widespread than originally calculated."
In this study, researchers examined video of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash. Using a scientific measure linking the percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed to their level of drowsiness, the researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness. Federal estimates indicate drowsiness is a factor in only one to two percent of crashes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily. In a recent related AAA Foundation survey, nearly all drivers (96 percent) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.
Knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel. The most common symptoms include:
• Having trouble keeping your eyes open
• Drifting from your lane
• Not remembering the last few miles driven
Drivers, however, should not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs for drowsiness and should instead prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before hitting the road.
"The only cure for drowsiness is sleep," said Podguski. "Not coffee, not an open window, not loud music… sleep is the best solution."
AAA recommends that drivers:
• Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake
• Avoid heavy foods
• Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment
For longer trips, drivers should:
• Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
• Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
• Do not underestimate the power of a quick nap. Pulling into a rest stop and taking a quick catnap -- at least 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes of sleep -- can help to keep you alert on the road.
To help drivers determine if their medications may cause drowsiness, AAA and the AAA Foundation developed Roadwise Rx, a free and confidential online tool that generates personalized feedback about how the interactions between prescription, over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements can affect safety behind the wheel.