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November 8, 2010

A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety about drowsy driving in America has found some surprising results, including that about 16.5% of all fatal crashes involve a driver who was drowsy.

AAA released the study, entitled Asleep at the Wheel: The Prevalence and Impact of Drowsy Driving, today in honor of the National Sleep Foundation’s public awareness campaign called Drowsy Driving Prevention Week occurring November 8-14 this year.

“When you are behind the wheel of a car, being sleepy is very dangerous. Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol, contributing to the possibility of a crash,” AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a press release. “We need to change the culture so that not only will drivers recognize the dangers of driving while drowsy but will stop doing it.”

For this study, AAA analyzed crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and telephone surveyed 2,000 drivers in the United States.

In addition to one in every six fatal crashes involving a drowsy driver, researchers also found that 12.5% of auto crashes with injuries requiring hospitalization are from drowsy driving. These study findings are surprising because they are dramatically higher than previous estimates and may suggest that motor vehicle crashes, injuries and deaths attributed to drowsy driving are under reported.

41% of drivers surveyed admitted they have fallen asleep at the wheel in their lifetime. While 96% of drivers surveyed said that driving while so tired they have trouble keeping their eyes open was “unacceptable,” 27% of drivers admitted they had driven in such a state within the last month, and more than half of those said it occurred on a high-speed divided highway.

To remain alert and avoid drowsiness, AAA suggests:

  • Getting plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before a long trip;
  • Scheduling a break every two hours or every 100 miles;
  • Traveling at times when you are normally awake, and staying overnight rather than driving straight through; and
  • Stop driving if you become sleepy; someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time.

Learn to recognize the symptoms of drowsy driving, these include but are not limited to:

  • You have trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
  • You can’t keep your head up
  • You daydream or have wandering, disconnected thoughts
  • You yawn frequently or rub your eyes repeatedly
  • You find yourself drifting from your lane or tailgating
  • You miss signs or drive past your exit
  • You feel irritable and restless
  • You drift off the road and hit the rumble strips
  • You are unable to remember how far you have traveled or what you have recently passed by.

"Many of us tend to underestimate the negative effects associated with fatigue and sleep deprivation and, conversely, overestimate our abilities to overcome them while driving," said Kathleen Marvaso, vice president, AAA Public Affairs. "This data underscores the importance of educating drivers on the simple, yet effective steps they can take to prevent a possible tragedy. Unfortunately, too many drivers have adopted the ‘I’m tired, but I can make it’ mentality, often to their own peril or to the peril of others."

Separate drowsy driving myth from fact and find out how to avoid drowsy driving today.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and research organization whose mission it is to identify problems, foster research that seeks solutions, and disseminate information and educational materials that promote good traffic safety practices.

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