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1 in 5 fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver

Valerie Vinyard. (AAA Arizona)

Missing only one or two hours of sleep a night nearly doubles the chance of having a car crash, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended seven hours daily, and 12 percent report sleeping less than five hours each night. With drowsy driving involved in more than one in five fatal crashes on U.S. roadways each year, AAA warns drivers that getting less sleep may have deadly consequences.

“This study is the first to quantify the relationship between specific measures of recent sleep and the risk of crash involvement among the general driving population,” said Lisa Fell, director of communications and public affairs for AAA Arizona. “Driving drowsy is essentially driving impaired.”

Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that in a 24-hour period, crash risk for sleep-deprived drivers increased steadily when compared to well-rested drivers:

  • Six to seven hours of sleep: 1.3 times the crash risk.
  • Five to six hours of sleep: 1.9 times the crash risk.
  • Four to five hours of sleep: 4.3 times the crash risk.
  • Less than four hours of sleep: 11.5 times the crash risk.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that more than one in five (21 percent) of fatal crashes involves driver fatigue. These results indicate that drowsy driving is under-reported and the prevalence is much greater than statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggest.

While 97 percent of drivers told the AAA Foundation they view drowsy driving as completely unacceptable behavior that is a serious threat to their safety, nearly one in three admitted that at least once in the past month they drove when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

AAA urges drivers to NOT rely on their bodies to provide warning signs of fatigue and should instead prioritize getting plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) in their daily schedules.

For longer trips, drivers also should:

  • Travel at times when normally awake.
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles.
  • Avoid heavy foods.
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving.
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report is based on the analysis of a representative sample of 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes. Data are from the NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle crash Causation Survey, which comprised a representative sample of police-reported crashes that involved at least one vehicle that was towed from the scene and resulted in emergency medical services being dispatched to the scene.

For more information, visit aaa.com/trafficsafety.

– Valerie Vinyard is a public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona. Contact her at vvinyard@arizona.aaa.com or at 520-258-0518.

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