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How prevalent is drowsy driving?

It can be hard to tell how prevalent fatigued or drowsy driving actually is. After all, a car crash tends to wake you up. Many people who have fallen asleep behind the wheel will be wide awake when it comes time to explain. That can cause law enforcement to underestimate the effect fatigue may have had on the accident.

Just how common is drowsy driving? Likely, very common, according to estimates.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has said that it is impossible to determine a precise number of injuries and deaths from drowsy driving. It relies on police and hospital reports to estimate how prevalent the problem is.

Other organizations have tried to come up with better estimates. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed almost 150,000 U.S. adults in 19 states and Washington, D.C. About one in every 25 adults surveyed admitted having fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once in the prior 30 days. People who snore or who chronically sleep 6 or fewer hours a night were even more likely to report having fallen asleep while driving.

In 2014, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 37% of all drivers say they have fallen asleep while driving at some point in their lives. And, drowsy drivers were involved in 6% of all crashes -- and 21% of fatal crashes.

Between 2013 and 2017, NHTSA says, there were at least 4,111 fatalities involving fatigued drivers. In 2017 alone, the police reported 91,000 crashes involving drowsy drivers, leading to about 50,000 injuries.

How drowsy are these drivers?

According to a 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there were several types of drowsy drivers who had elevated crash risks:

  • Those who usually slept less than 5 hours a night
  • Those who slept less than 7 hours in the previous 24
  • Drivers who slept 1 or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the past 24 hours

That may not seem like they’ve missed all that much sleep. However, the U.S. government estimates that driving after only 4 to 5 hours of sleep is associated with risks similar to those of driving drunk, when compared to people who sleep 7 hours or more.

Moreover, the start of daylight savings time has been shown to be linked with an increase in car crashes.

Who are these drowsy drivers?

While any driver could become drowsy, there is some evidence that commercial truckers commonly drive while fatigued. The federal government limits the amount of time a commercial driver can drive without rest and mandates certain rest periods. However, there is significant pressure on truckers to get to their destinations quickly, and this can mean cheating on the rest rules.

Were you or a loved one injured in a crash with a drowsy driver? There is a very good chance that the driver could be considered negligent in the accident. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney to understand your legal rights and options.

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