I was not surprised with the findings of the study mentioned below. It makes sense that binge drinkers, alcohol impaired drivers and individuals who do not use seatbelts also reported that they had driven drowsy. What I was surprised about was that as many as 7,500 fatal motor vehicles crashes a year are the result of the drowsy driving.
In a July 4, 2014 CDC report, researchers identified risk behaviors associated with drowsy driving. Results show a higher drowsy driving prevalence of 5.2 percent among binge drinkers and 6.6 percent among drivers who were less likely to wear seatbelts while driving or riding in a car. Drowsy driving did not vary by smoking status. The CDC concluded that interventions to address binge drinking, alcohol-impaired driving, and nonuse of seatbelts also might help reduce drowsy driving crashes.
The study also found drowsy driving has been a factor each year in as many as 7,500 fatal motor vehicle crashes (approximately 25%) in the United States. Adults who reported driving drowsy were usually sleeping less than or equal to six hours per day.
Falling asleep while driving is clearly dangerous, but drowsiness also impairs the ability to drive safely even if drivers do not fall asleep. Studies have observed that drowsy drivers take longer to react, are less attentive to their environment, and have impaired decision-making skills, all of which can contribute to vehicle crashes.
In the study, a total of 92,102 respondents were asked, “During the past 30 days, have you ever nodded off or fallen asleep, even just for a brief moment, while driving?” Among the 92,102 respondents, 4.0% reported falling asleep while driving during the preceding 30 days. Drowsy driving decreased with age from 5.9% among adults aged 18 to 24 years to 1.8% among adults aged 65 years and older. Overall, the age-adjusted prevalence of drowsy driving was higher among men than women (5.0% compared with 3.0%). The prevalence of drowsy driving for men aged 18 to 34 years was 6.9%, compared with 3.5% for women in the same age group. Respondents who usually slept less than or equal to five hours per 24 hours reported drowsy driving more often than those who slept six hours or greater than or equal to seven hours (9.1% compared with 5.2% and 2.7% , respectively), as did snorers compared with non-snorers (5.6% compared with 2.9%). In addition, drowsy driving was more common among binge drinkers than non-binge drinkers and abstainers (5.2% compared with 3.7% and 3.6%, respectively). Drowsy driving also was more common among drivers who sometimes, seldom, or never wear seatbelts while driving or riding in a car compared with those who always or almost always wear seatbelts (6.6% compared with 3.9%).
The CDC has named motor vehicle injury prevention as one of its ten goals. More than 30,000 persons have died in motor vehicle crashes each year since 1963. In 2012, nearly one third (10,322) of the 33,561 traffic fatalities occurred in alcohol-impaired driving crashes and 70% of the alcohol-impaired drivers involved in these fatal crashes had a blood alcohol content of more than 0.15 g/dL, indicating binge drinking. In addition, half of vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seatbelts, and as many as 7,500 fatal crashes in the United States each year might involve drowsy drivers.
Sleep-related crashes are more likely to happen at times when drivers are more likely to be sleepy: at night or in the midafternoon. Although these crashes often involve a single vehicle going off the road, sleep-related crashes also are disproportionately represented in rear-end and head-on collisions. Finally, injuries and fatalities are more common in drowsy driving crashes than non-drowsy driving crashes.
What can you do to avoid drowsy driving? Get between six to eight hours of sleep each night. If you can’t, try to take naps and rest if you know you will be driving long distances. Other things that can help are chewing gum, turning up the radio and air conditioning, and talking to someone. But if you feel yourself start to drift off, the safest thing is to pull over or have someone else take the wheel.