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One in ten crashes caused by drowsy driving

A recent AAA study has found that one in ten car crashes is caused by a sleepy or sleeping driver. Researchers analyzed the faces of drivers caught on dashboard cameras moments before accidents happened. They calculated how long a person’s eyes stayed closed to determine how drowsy they were. From this, they concluded 10 percent of car crashes are due to driver fatigue.

Elevated crash rates

Another AAA study found that compared to drivers who had slept at least seven hours in a 24-hour period, drivers who slept just five to six hours are twice as likely to crash. Drivers who slept only four to five hours had four times the crash rate—close to what's seen among drunken drivers.

That study was the one of the first to quantify the number of hours slept and the risk of causing an accident, and relied on data gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey. However, because data on number of hours slept was self-reported in this earlier study, the findings were limited as to their impact.

Thanks to technology, this newer study from AAA corrects the problem of self-reported data by monitoring actual drivers involved in actual crashes. By analyzing live footage of sleepy drivers, researchers were able to take the guess-work out of their analysis entirely, leading to conclusions that were much higher than originally estimated.

Symptoms of drowsy driving

Drivers who are too tired to drive exhibit a number of telltale signs. Whether sharing the road or the vehicle with a tired driver, watch out for these symptoms: 

  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Running red lights or stop signs
  • Weaving, drifting or swerving
  • Hitting shoulder rumble strips
  • Difficulty remembering the last few miles driven
  • Incessant yawning or head-bobbing

Tips for drowsy drivers

If you’re feeling tired and have trouble keeping your eyes open, the AAA researchers recommend a few things, like trading driving responsibilities with a passenger or getting off the road to take a quick nap if you are travelling alone. Even a quick 20-30 minute nap, they say, has enormous benefits regarding your ability to drive safely.

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