An alarming number of fatal auto accidents are caused by drowsy driving every year, yet most of those incidents can be prevented, according to the findings of a new report.
Researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that drowsy driving leads to about 6,000 deaths each year, despite it being entirely preventable. An outline of the ways to end drowsy driving accidents is published latest issue of the journal Sleep.
The report examines crash data from 2010, focusing on nearly 33,000 fatal crashes and nearly 4 million auto accidents resulting in injuries. The findings indicated drowsy driving accounted for 5,445 of the fatal crashes and more than 500,000 of the non-fatal collisions involving injuries.
In addition to lives lost and injuries sustained, drowsy driving costs the U.S. more than $109 billion each year, according to NHTSA estimates.
Researchers indicate that lifestyle factors can greatly increase the odds of drowsy driving. Those factors can include working the night shift, having multiple jobs, working long shifts or irregular hours. Other factors include people who often visit nightclubs and thrill-seekers.
These people are more likely to drive while drowsy, increasing their odds of being involved in a collision and injuring themselves or someone else, the NHTSA researchers found.
A study published last by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicated drowsy driving increased a person’s risk of being involved in an auto accident. It also found numerous similarities between drowsy driving and drunk driving.
According to the data, 21 percent of fatal auto accidents involved drowsy driving as well as 13 percent of crashes that involved hospital admissions.
Millions of drivers in the U.S. fall asleep behind the wheel each month. More than 15 percent of all fatal crashes involved drowsy drivers, the new data indicates.
Drowsiness causes a person to have slower reaction times. Drowsy drivers will also experience impaired attention, impaired mental processing, judgment and decision making.
Researchers indicate that making sure drivers get enough sleep is the best way to prevent drowsy driving. Naps can also help, as a 20 to 30 minute nap in a safe location can make a person more alert. Caffeinated beverages can also help, however, researchers warn this is only effective for short periods of time.
Other things may also cause drowsy driving, including sleep apnea, narcolepsy, side effects of some medications, and certain medical disorders.
Often, people drive when they are tired because they have no choice, but researchers warn most people underestimate the great risk of driving drowsy. They hope to educate the public to help prevent drowsy driving.
“Drivers are capable of modifying this behavior if given sufficient information and motivation,” the researchers noted. “Our goal is to establish a comprehensive and strategic effort to end drowsy driving crashes and deaths.”