Facts + Statistics: Drowsy driving

Results of fatigue from any cause include impaired cognition and performance, motor vehicle crashes, workplace accidents, and health consequences. Research shows that fatigue is a significant factor in motor vehicle, commercial trucking and rail collisions.

  • Drowsy driving is a serious problem in the United States. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) has found that determining a precise number of drowsy-driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities is not yet possible and relies on police and hospital reports to determine the prevalence of drowsy-driving crashes.
  • NHTSA reports in 2019 there were 697 fatalities in motor vehicle crashes that involved drowsy drivers, down 11.2 percent from 785 in 2018. Drowsy driving fatalities were 1.9 percent of total driving fatalities in 2019.
  • Between 2013 and 2017 there were a total of 4,111 fatalities that involved drowsy driving. In 2017, there were 91,000 police-reported crashes that involved drowsy drivers. Those crashes led to about 50,000 people being injured.
  • The AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety’s 2019 Traffic Safety Culture Index found widespread disapproval of drowsy driving among Americans--over 97 percent of drivers socially disapprove of drowsy driving and about 96 percent of drivers identify drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous. Despite these attitudes, only 29 percent thought drowsy drivers risked being caught by the police. About 24 percent of drivers admit to having driven while being so tired that they had had a hard time keeping their eyes open, at least once in past 30 days.
  • An earlier  AAA Foundation For Traffic Safety report published in February 2018 monitored the driving behavior of about 3,600 drivers over several months between October 2010 and December 2013 using in-vehicle cameras and other data collection equipment. The study found that among drivers who had crashes, observable driver drowsiness, assessed on the basis of eyelid closures, was present in an estimated 8.8 percent to 9.5 percent  of all crashes. In addition, 10.6 percent to 10.8 percent of those crashes were severe enough to be reportable to the police. These proportions are significantly higher than statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which report that driver drowsiness was involved in an estimated 1.4 percent of all police-reported crashes nationwide, 2.0 percent of crashes that resulted in injuries and 2.4 percent of crashes that resulted in a death in years 2011 to 2015.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Drowsy driving accidents frequently occur on rural roads and highways.
  • 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.
  • In 2019, 1,240 drivers who were involved in fatal crashes (or 2.4 percent) were reported as being drowsy, as shown below:

Driving Behaviors Reported For Drivers And Motorcycle Operators Involved In Fatal Crashes, 2019

 

Behavior Number Percent
Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted limit or racing 8,746 17.2%
Under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication 5,164 10.1
Failure to yield right of way 3,728 7.3
Failure to keep in proper lane 3,381 6.6
Operating vehicle in a careless manner 3,302 6.5
Distracted (phone, talking, eating, object, etc.) 3,008 5.9
Failure to obey traffic signs, signals, or officer 2,054 4.0
Operating vehicle in erratic, reckless or negligent manner 1,880 3.7
Overcorrecting/oversteering 1,569 3.1
Vision obscured (rain, snow, glare, lights, building, trees, etc.) 1,543 3.0
Drowsy, asleep, fatigued, ill, or blacked out  1,240 2.4
Driving wrong way on one-way traffic or wrong side of road 1,223 2.4
Swerving or avoiding due to wind, slippery surface, etc. 1,148 2.3
Making improper turn 419 0.8
Other factors 5,549 10.9
None reported 9,196 18.1
Unknown 15,423 30.3
Total drivers (1) 50,930 100.0%

(1) The sum of the numbers and 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.

View Archived Tables

Additional resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel.

National Safety Council, Drivers are Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel.

 

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