Report: Drowsy Driving Causes 17% Of Crashes

A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety may keep you up at night — and that could be a good thing. According to the report, 41% of drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel, and drowsy driving accounts for about 17% of all crashes, and 2% of vehicular fatalities.

Consumer Reports took at look a the eye-opening study:

The study found that 41 percent admit to falling asleep or nodding off at some point during their driving experience, based on a telephone survey of 2,000 U.S. residents. One in 10 said they did so in the past year and 27 percent of those surveyed said they were so tired behind the wheel that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

Drowsy driving was attributed to 730 deaths in 2009–about 2 percent of all vehicular fatalities, but an analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash data reveals that one in six or 16 percent of deadly crashes involve a driver who is sleepy and one in eight result in hospitalization. These statistics are higher than previous estimates and suggest that drowsy driving is a more prevalent factor in crashes, deaths, and injuries.

Tips from Consumer Reports to help avoid drowsy driving include taking breaks, inviting a passenger along, and this handy twofer: “Drinking a good quantity of water helps as it prevents dehydration that can cause drowsiness. It also requires you to pull over regularly and stretch your legs for a bathroom break.”

Wake-up call: AAA study shows too many drivers are asleep at the wheel [Consumer Reports]
Asleep at the Wheel: The Prevalence and Impact of Drowsy Driving (PDF) [AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety]


Edit Your Comment

  1. SonarTech52 says:

    When I die, I want to go peacefully, in my sleep like my Grandfather… Not screaming like his passengers..

  2. Thyme for an edit button says:

    I have once fallen asleep at the wheel. Scared the crap out of me. I didn’t even realize how tired I was. I started to drift and the little bumps at the end of the lane woke me up.

    • dohtem says:

      Same here. Freaked me out so much, I pulled over immediately.

      • Thyme for an edit button says:

        Me too.

        It hasn’t happened again, thank goodness. I make sure to take a break every couple of hours. Just get out, walk around, buy a soda or a water.

    • milkcake says:

      Same experience. I never let it happen again. If I feel sleepy, I find nearest exit, go to gas station or rest stop whatever. Take a nap. Get up, get a can of red bull and go again.

  3. Opiecat says:

    Mythbusters just tested this and proved on their last episode that Driving while tired is more dangerous than driving drunk

  4. MrEvil says:

    I’ve had a couple drives like that where I got incredibly sleepy… and it always happens when I’m on a 2 lane highway with absolutely no safe place to pull off. But I have been known to pull over, leave my engine idle, put up my sunshades and stretch out across my front seat to catch a few winks.

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      My entire commute consists of two-lane highways through monotonous country fields.
      It’s a very difficult half-hour drive when you’ve had a long day at work.
      I would rather fight drowsiness with chewing gum, Mountain Dew and slaps to the face during my short drive, than pull over and sleep on the side of the road- that would only increase my commute time.

  5. Groanan says:

    I wonder what % of crashes are due to poor driving?

    I wholeheartedly believe that some people can drive tired, or drive tipsy, better than other people can drive sober and rested.

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      That doesn’t make either a good idea.

      • Groanan says:

        Not sure where “good idea” comes into it.

        There has to be a sliding scale somewhere that balances the utility and freedom of driving while tired, or drinking at lunch, against the added risk on the road.

        If it is less of a risk for some people, they should be allowed to grab more of the utility from the activities. What right does the government have to force those of us who are excellent to perform better than average?

        I think it is silly to make one accident, where the person was just incompetent, have no legal ramifications, while another accident, where the person had a drink at lunch, lead to license removal, jail time, and alcoholic’s anonymous.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          There are legal ramifications for simply being a bad driver. It’s called vehicular manslaughter, and is most commonly defined by negligent homicide.

          • Groanan says:

            Yes but there are cases where it would not even be looked at as vehicular manslaughter except for the fact that the driver had been drinking.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I think for a time, some people get away with it, and you wonder whether they’re really just better at it, but it all catches up to them eventually. It just takes one time for it to end very, very badly.

    • hotdogsunrise says:

      I agree. But that doesn’t mean that those people should drive drowsy or tipsy. There’s some horrible drivers out there and I don’t understand how they passed any type of driving test.

    • B says:

      All of them.
      if you drive drunk, you are a poor driver. If you drive while tired, you are a poor driver. If you drive distracted, you are a poor driver (etc).

    • Doubts42 says:

      While Groanan’s premise that he should be allowed to drive drunk because he thinks he is a better driver than everyone else is just plain silly, it is true that some folks drive better drunk than others drive sober.

      I would much rather be in the car with average Joe, who has put away a six pack, than with my wife if her mother or her sister are in the car. At least Joe will look at the road now and then, even if he is seeing 2 of them.

      • Groanan says:

        Drunk & Tired is not an on/off switch.

        Every driver has different reaction times, and it is these reaction times that seem to be the indicator of how well they respond to situations where they can stop themselves from getting into an accident on the road.

        The negligent get crucified while the incompetent roam free.

        If I drive with explosive diarrhea, and it cause me to have a poorer reaction time and crash, society and the law is not going to come crashing down on my like a ton of bricks – but if I am found “under the influence” my life as an upstanding citizen is pretty much over, I am the scum of the Earth, only barely better than a pedophile.

        I fail to see the equity in this dichotomy, and studies like this suggest we should continue looking at poor driving behavior at a societal level and attach legal ramifications based on factors that effect an individual’s driving performance instead of, on a case by case basis, looking at specific individuals and how well they were driving at the time of an accident to see whether or not the law should come down hard and heavy on them.

        • isileth says:

          If you get hit by a driver it doesn’t matter a lot if he/she was drunk, sick or tired, just that you were hit..
          On the other hand, the difference with drunkness is – in my opinion – that it’s a decision of the driver to drink and drive and booze makes you forget that you are not immortal.

  6. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    It’s obviously not quite the same, but the same rules with drunk driving apply here. If you’re about to get on the road and you notice someone is really tired, realize their reflexes and awareness are going to be diminished. Take the keys away from them, please. I had a friend who died after he fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed his car. He didn’t listen to us when we told him he should get more sleep before leaving, but I wish that someone had thought to just take away his keys.

    Also consider that you might think it’s fine to drive while you’re a little tired and just guzzle Mountain Dew but you might crash into a person. I hate that people make bad decisions and suffer because of them, but think about others before you get into the car. I have a friend whose car got t-boned by a drunk driver. She was okay, and her kids weren’t in the car, but it’s not an acceptable risk because you need to get somewhere earlier. It’s not worth it.

    • humbajoe says:

      For many people it’s not “I’m driving sleepy because I have to get somewhere earlier”. It’s more like “I’m driving sleepy because my schedule doesn’t allow for more than 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night and that’s if I’m lucky”.

      • LaurelHS says:

        Some people can’t use the busy schedule excuse though. The Selby rail crash in the UK was caused by a sleepy driver who had stayed up all night talking to a woman he met on the Internet.

  7. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    A week or so ago, I quite nearly fell asleep while driving to work and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I was screaming along to music in order to stay awake. It was VERY VERY BAD.

    I just moved to Michigan from Florida, and the light difference (and having to get up at 6am) is killing me. I can not wake up if it is dark outside, and it sucks.

  8. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Cat detected. Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!

  9. denros says:

    Drowsy Driving has caused 100% of my car accidents. And, because nothing I do can be without some kind of irony it seems, I was pulling out of a mattress store when it happened.

  10. 420greg says:

    Sorry. At first glance I thought it said Robert: Drownys Driving Causes 17% Of Crashes

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      To be fair, if I saw Robert Downey Jr. I’d probably be so distracted I would rear end the car ahead of me.

  11. GinaLouise says:

    I was driving from S.F. to L.A. on four hours of sleep, and at one point I physically felt myself start to doze off and drift into another lane. Thank God the road was abandoned at that hour. I was also absolutely, completely terrified by the incident.

    Nowadays I keep No-Doze in my glove compartment, and I’ve been known to pull over for a nap (I usually use mall parking lots). Never, ever again.

    On a related note, a co-worker told me her tip when she was working the night shift was to keep jalapeno peppers in the car. When she got sleepy, she ate a few jalapenos. Me, I’ll keep the No-Doze.

    • Bremma says:

      I used to do 4-4.5 hour drives all the time from my college to either my boyfriend’s place or my parent’s house. I’d always pull over at a gas station and sleep if I felt myself get too tired. Thankfully, I’ve never fallen asleep at the wheel.

  12. CrisA says:

    I do a lot of long distance driving by myself, where even if you had a full night’s sleep, you can still end up getting massively drowsy. My personal trick is to bring along something crunchy to munch on (for whatever reason, crunching keeps me awake) and listen to music I know all the words to and sing along. And if I’ve gotten to the point of having a hard time keeping my eyes open, I always pull out at the next rest stop or big truck stop, lock my doors, crack my windows, throw in the sunshade, and sleep for 20-30 minutes. The one time I wasn’t able to because I was on the clock and had been delayed 2 hours by a massive storm, I pulled over to the side of the interstate, got out, and dumped a whole bottle of water over my head. Not the best solution in the world, but it worked.

  13. TasteyCat says:

    I’ll take my chances near a sleeping driver over these tailgating morons any day.

  14. Razor512 says:

    Sometimes when I am driving, I get really bored and just floor the accelerator, then put on some nice soothing music then take a quick nap then hope that I am home by the time I wake up.


  15. Snaptastic says:

    That’s why I drive with my trusty car corgi (cargi) for long trips. Whenever I doze a bit, he faithfully has picked up on it and wet-willied my ear–usually jolting me awake long enough to realize that I need to wither take a break or stop for the night.

    Cargi also helps by guarding my car if I have to take a nap–I’ve woken up every now and then to see him dutifully scanning the area where my car was parked. When I wake up and resume driving, he’ll duck back into the floorboard and nap until he’s needed.

    …he also noticed my passenger side mirror when it broke off and was dangling by the wires, banging against the side of the car on the interstate…a good 10 minutes before I realized it (despite my yelling at him to stop scratching at the door). I bought him french fries as an apology and fessed up to my Dad that my cargi figured out what was wrong with my car before his daughter could. T_T’

  16. mac-phisto says:

    i’ve gotten pretty tired on the road before. i’ve found that stopping, getting out of the car, walking around & stretching work just as well as pulling off for a nap. but either is better than the alternative.

    i often wonder how many of these traffic accidents are caused by prescription drug use. it seems like there are a lot of people driving around with their brains shut off lately – i suppose they could be drowsy, but i’m thinking those xanax are certainly a contributing factor.

    sadly, that study will never see the light of day.

  17. donovanr says:

    I would say that on the highway my sleepiness has posed the most danger but that in town it is other people on cellphones. I have never felt like drifting off in town. Probably a good idea to keep some caffeine pills in the glove box.

  18. sweaterhogans says:

    I’m sleepy pretty much every single morning. I can’t exactly call out of work (or late) everyday because I’m sleepy. I know it’s dangerous, but I don’t have a choice. If more companies allowed me to telecommute we wouldn’t have this problem.