Drowsy Driving Statistics

The Zebra
Sept. 19, 2019

Drowsy driving statistics in 2019

In 2019, The Zebra conducted a national survey to simulate prior study done by the American Automobile Association in 2010. With over 2000 respondents, the survey aimed to provide more accurate estimates of the prevalence of drowsy driving on the roads and of the proportion of crashes each year that involve a drowsy driver.

  • 45.1% of all respondents are not at all familiar with their states driving laws.
  • 23.6% of all respondents said simply being tired meant it was too dangerous to drive.
  • 33.5% of respondents 65 or older reported to have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once in their lifetime.
  • Respondents in the 65+ age group believe general tiredness/sleepiness is enough to make you too dangerous to drive (39%), the most of any other age group.
  • Men (32.9%) were more likely to have fallen asleep at the wheel compared to women (22.2%).
  • Respondents in the 18-24 age group were the most likely to believe that drowsy driving is more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol. Those in the 25-34 age group were the most likely to believe that drowsy driving is more dangerous than texting while driving.

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Drowsy driving statistics over the years

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is among the foremost experts in traffic safety. A more complete look at its findings can be found online:

  • In 2010, AAA reported that one of every six deadly traffic accidents — and one out of eight crashes requiring hospitalization of those in the car — was due to drowsy driving.
  • About 40% of drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel: 10% of those drivers admitted to this behavior in the past year and 27% admitted to this in the past month.
  • Younger drivers (16-to-24-year-olds) in 2012 were found to be nearly twice as likely to be driving while drowsy as their older counterparts (40- to 59-year-olds) at the time of a crash. These younger drivers also self-reported driving while drowsy and falling asleep at the wheel in that year.
  • In 2015, 2.3 percent (824) of the fatalities occurring on U.S. roadways reportedly involved drowsy driving.
  • The following year (2016), AAA released a study that found driving after sleeping for less than seven hours in a 24-hour period was associated with measurably elevated crash rates.

Drowsy Driving, a subsection of the National Sleep Foundation’s organization, reports the findings of its driving while drowsy research:

  • In 2009, nearly 7 out of 10 adult drivers report driving while drowsy at least once a month in the previous year.
  • More than 1 in 5 drivers who reported having fallen asleep while driving in the past year reported that it had occurred between noon and 5 p.m.
  • In 2015, an estimated 33,000 car accidents that resulted in injury included drowsy drivers. This amounted to 1.9% of all injury crashes.
  • Also in 2015, an estimated 90,000 crashes (fatal, injury, and property damage only) involved drowsy driving (1.4% of all car accidents).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association oversees the occurrence and ideal prevention of all motor vehicle accidents in the United States. The following statistics come from NHTSA data: 

  • From 2013 to 2017, more than 4,000 people died due to drowsy driving.
  • Drowsy driving led to 795 deaths in 2017. 
  • More than 90,000 car accidents involved drowsy driving in 2017.
  • Driving while drowsy was identified in 8.8% to 9.5% of all crashes examined in 2018.
  • The NHTSA calculated the cost of drowsy-driving crashes at about 13% of the total $836 billion in societal costs of traffic crashes.

Drowsy driving laws in America

  • Only two states (Arkansas and New Jersey) have laws directly classifying drowsy driving as a punishable offense.
  • California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, and Maine have adopted driver's license restrictions for motorists with untreated sleep disorders.
  • Massachusetts, California, Alabama, Florida, and Texas all have weeks or days dedicated to spreading awareness of drowsy driving and how to identify the signs of driving while drowsy.

For more information on drowsy driving state laws, consult the full list of legal resources available at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Drowsy driving vs. drunk driving

  • Studies show being awake for more than 20 hours results in impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08, the legal limit in all US states.
  • Drowsy driving killed 795 people in 2017. In 2017, nearly 2,000 people died in alcohol-related accidents
  • Even if you aren’t drunk, driving while tired can slow your reaction times and thought processes enough to cause an accident.

Drowsy driving awareness week occurs each year from November 3rd to November 10th.

What causes drowsy driving?

  • Our circadian rhythms regular our sleep-wake cycle. Monotonous tasks turn the brain from being active to relaxed and can make us realize how sleepy we really are. (Roth et al, 1994; NTSB 1995)
  • A general lack of sleep. Humans need on average 7 to 9 hours of sleep to properly function. If you haven’t gotten a good night’s rest, consider handing the keys over to someone else. 
  • If you’ve recently started a new medication, try it out a few nights before you decide to drive. Night-driving on medication can have unintended side effects.
  • In addition to the well-established legal and physical consequences of drinking and driving, alcohol can make you sleepy, further adding to the danger.
  • Researchers estimate that more than 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. If you think you might be one of them, speak with your doctor before driving.

Prevention: how to stay awake while driving

  • Drive at times you are usually awake.
  • Take your time and don’t rush to get to your destination.
  • Eat a low-sugar, healthy diet before your drive.
  • Take energy-boosting vitamins.
  • Drink caffeine.
  • If you are sleepy, a 100-calorie snack may wake you up. 
  • If you can’t make it, a 20-minute nap should suffice.

Driving while drowsy: what it means for your insurance

When it comes to insurance, there is no technical violation for falling asleep at the wheel. If you do fall asleep, hit something or someone, you will most likely be given a ticket, which will cause your rates to increase. What the ticket says, however, is up to the officer present at the scene. In most cases, you will be given a ticket for “reckless driving” because you are required to keep control of your vehicle at all times. Reckless driving is defined as “wanton disregard of the rules of the road” and given that you were not giving your full attention to the road, an officer is well within the law to give you a ticket for this.

Check out how a reckless driving ticket can cause your insurance rates to rise over time.

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