Drowsy Driving

Drowsy Driving

Research shows that fatigue is a significant factor in motor vehicle, commercial trucking and rail collisions.

  • The Governors Highway Safety Association issued a report in August 2016 concluding that the estimated annual societal cost of fatigue-related fatal and injury crashes was $109 billion. This figure does not include property damage.
  • A 2014 AAA Traffic Safety Foundation study found that 37 percent of drivers report having fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point in their lives. An estimated 21 percent of fatal crashes, 13 percent of crashes resulting in severe injury and 6 percent of all crashes, involve a drowsy driver.
  • According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, in 2014 there were 846 fatalities (2.6 percent of all fatalities) that were drowsy-driving-related.
  • These reported fatalities (and drowsy-driving crashes overall) have remained largely consistent across the past decade. Between 2005 and 2009 there was an estimated average of 83,000 crashes each year related to drowsy driving. This annual average includes almost 886 fatal crashes (2.5 percent of all fatal crashes), an estimated 37,000 injury crashes, and an estimated 45,000 property damage only crashes.
  • A 2013 study by the Federal Rail Administration found that fatigue greatly increases the chances of an accident in which human factors play a role, with the risk of such an accident rising from 11 percent to 65 percent.
  • Although sleepiness can affect all types of crashes during the entire day and night, drowsy-driving crashes most frequently occur between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late-afternoon, according to NHTSA.
  • The NHTSA found that many drowsy-driving crashes involve a single vehicle, with no passengers besides the driver, running off the road at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking.
  • In 2014, drowsiness or sleepiness was a factor for 2.9 percent of drivers and motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes, as shown in the chart below.
  • A December 2016 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic and Safety found that drivers who usually sleep for less than 5 hours daily, drivers who have slept for less than 7 hours in the past 24 hours, and drivers who have slept for 1 or more hours less than their usual amount of sleep in the past 24 hours have significantly elevated crash rates. The estimated rate ratio for crash involvement associated with driving after only 4-5 hours of sleep compared with 7 hours or more is similar to the U.S. government’s estimates of the risk associated with driving with a blood alcohol concentration equal to or slightly above the legal limit for alcohol in the U.S.
  • The beginning of daylight savings is linked to an increase in auto accidents, according to an analysis by the University of British Columbia and a study by researchers at John Hopkins and Stanford University.


Driving Behaviors Reported For Drivers And Motorcycle Operators Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2014

Behavior Number of drivers Percent
Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted speed limit 8,360 18.8%
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication 5,492 12.3
Failure to keep in proper lane or running off road 3,770 8.5
Failure to yield right of way 3,094 6.9
Distracted (phone, talking, eating, object, etc.) 3,000 6.7
Operating vehicle in a careless manner 2,122 4.8
Overcorrecting/oversteering 1,814 4.1
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals or officer 1,796 4.0
Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless or negligent manner 1,548 3.5
Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, other
vehicle, object, nonmotorist in roadway, etc.
1,510 3.4
Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill or blacked out 1,309 2.9
Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, buildings, trees, etc.) 1,241 2.8
Driving wrong way on one-way trafficway or on wrong side of road 879 2.0
Making improper turn 765 1.7
Other factors 5,212 11.7
None reported 13,885 31.1
Unknown 5,740 12.9
Total drivers (1) 44,583 100.0%

(1) The sum of percentages is greater than total drivers as more than one factor may be present for the same driver.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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