Key insights + statistics
- 100,000 police-reported crashes and over 1,500 deaths are the results of drowsy driving each year. (NHTSA)
- More than 40% of drivers admitted they have fallen asleep behind the wheel. (AAA)
- The cost of drowsy-driving crashes at about 13% of the total $836 billion in societal costs of traffic crashes. (NHTSA)
- An estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses are due to drowsy drivers. (NHTSA)
- In 2017, 50,000 people were injured in drowsy driving accidents and 795 of those were killed because of drowsy driving. (NHTSA)
- 800 fatalities occurred in 2015 as a result of drivers feeling fatigued behind the wheel. (FHWA)
- From 2009 to 2013, 72,000 police-reported motor vehicle accidents involving drowsy drivers. (NHTSA)
Why is drowsy driving dangerous?
From 2013 to 2017, more than 4,000 people died due to drowsy driving. Drowsy driving is so dangerous because it mirrors so many sypmtoms of drunk driving: blurred vision, slowed reaction time, and poor decision making. From 2006-2016, the NHTSA reported more than 10,000 deaths from drunk driving collisions and impaired drivers. While it is more common in drivers who travel long distances, drowsiness or sleepiness can happen to anyone. Even the most experienced drivers can be susceptible and miss the warning signs that it's no longer safe to be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. If your vision begins to blur, you nod off, or lose control of the car, you should pull over immediately and sleep.
The Zebra, the nation's leading insurance comparison site, collected proprietary data, as well as synthesized research from data sources such as the American Automobile Association, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, and the National Sleep Foundation to present the most up-to-date and relevant facts and statistics on drowsy driving.
Table of contents
- Drowsy driving in 2020
- Drowsy driving in 2019
- Sleepy while driving facts
- Drowsy driving laws in America
- Drowsy driving statistics by state
- Drunk driving vs. drowsy driving
- What causes drowsy driving?
- How to stay awake while driving
- How drowsy driving affects car insurance rates
- FAQs about drowsy driving
A 2020 national survey of 2,000 respondents revealed that most Americans have some hesitation about driving alone at night. Despite significant statistics highlighting the prevalent danger of drowsy driving, only 7.10% listed falling asleep at the wheel as one of their concerns about nighttime driving. Further analysis of The Zebra's survey indicated:
- The majority of Americans fear driving alone at night (52%).
- Poor night vision is the biggest concern (19%), followed by impaired drivers (12%).
- Men are 13% more likely to feel confident driving alone at night.
- Drivers aged 18-24 fear hitting a pedestrian most (13%), whereas drivers 65+ fear experiencing poor night vision most (25%).
This survey was conducted as a follow-up to a 2017 Ford Motors survey in the U.K that found 81% admit to being scared on the roads at night, rising to 87% for women.
In 2019, The Zebra conducted a national survey to simulate a prior study done by the American Automobile Association in 2010. With over 2,000 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 state's 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 having 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.
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.
- 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.
The data below is from a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of over 147,000 U.S. drivers in 2010. Please refer to CDC's website for additional information regarding the data below.
In 2010, an average of 4.2% of drivers reported having fallen asleep while driving within the 30 days before the survey. Averages of individual states had a range of 3.7%, with Oregon reporting 2.5% and Texas reporting 6.1%. Here are how 20 states rank:
|State||Percentage of drivers who reported falling asleep at the wheel|
|District of Columbia||2.6%|
- 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.
- Our circadian rhythms regulate 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.
- 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.
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.
Insurance rates rise by an average of over $500 per six-month policy period after a reckless driving charge — or over $3,000 over the course of the three-year chargeable period. In many states, reckless driving is defined as driving dangerously and without care, potentially resulting in bodily harm and/or property damage, and is considered a major moving violation. A reckless driving charge is the fifth most expensive citation that affects car insurance.
Check out how a reckless driving ticket can cause your insurance rates to rise over time.
Question: How to avoid drowsiness while driving?
Answer: According to the Medical Center of Rochester University, the top 5 ways to avoid falling asleep at the wheel are: don't drink and drive, avoid long-distance drives alone, sleep well the night before, drive at times you usually do, don't encourage sleepiness with bad posture.
Q: When do most drowsy driving accidents occur?
A: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most crashes caused by drowsy driving occur between 6AM and midnight.
Q: What is drowsy driving?
A: According to the CDC, drowsy driving occurs when the driver of a car or vehicle becomes tired or fatigued, possibly resulting in horrific consequences.
Q: What causes drowsiness while driving?
A: Oftentimes, fatigue occurs to drivers who have gone long distances without adequate sleep. However, drowsy driving can be the result of sleep disorders, drinking while driving, or medication.
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This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Consumer Surveys. The sample consisted of no less than 1,000 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in 2019.
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- UCLA Health - Sleep Center
- NHTSA Drowsy Driving Report
- AAA Foundation- The Prevalence and Impact of Drowsy Driving
- National Sleep Foundation - Drowsy Driving
- AAA Drowsy Driving Research Brief
- National Sleep Foundation - Drowsy Driving Preventable Action
- AAA Foundation - Drowsy Driving Brochure
- National Conference of State Legislatures