Drowsy Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving, Says NHTSA

Drowsy Driving as Dangerous as Drunk Driving, Says NHTSA

November 17, 2015

Ellis Law Corporation


Rates of drowsy driving have hit an all-time high in the United States, prompting industry experts to launch a new initiative to better address the risks, ramifications and countermeasures related to this worrisome epidemic. During the recent National Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (held November 1-8), public health officials, sleep science specialists and traffic safety experts convened to discuss public policy needs and objectives to raise awareness and help prevent fatigued driving.

The forum was hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) on November 4 – 5, 2015 and welcomed representatives from federal agencies, state government and private advocacy groups. Considering that one in four licensed motorists admits to drowsy driving within the last month, this initiative comes at a crucial time, and will hopefully spark measures to reduce the number of drowsy-driving related accidents and deaths.

Drowsy driving rates underreported

Data compiled in the AAA Foundation’s 2015 Traffic Safety Culture Index, which surveyed American drivers aged 16 and older, discovered some troubling numbers regarding the pervasive nature of drowsy driving.

The drowsy driving survey revealed that:

  • 31.5%  of participants reported that within the last month they had driven when they were so tired they had a difficult time keeping their eyes open
  • 43.2% admitted they had nodded off or briefly fallen asleep while behind the wheel at least once in their lifetime
  • 17.4% reported having fallen asleep while driving three or more times during their life

The AAA notes that these extrapolated numbers may not accurately represent the true prevalence of drowsy driving in our nation, since most individuals who nod off at the wheel or who are extremely fatigued while driving may underestimate the real dangers involved, and thus may not self-report.

Lack of sleep renders drivers severely impaired

Every year in the United States, drowsy driving is a factor in:

  • 1,550 deaths
  • 6,400 fatal car crashes
  • Over 70,000 car accident injuries
  • An estimated 100,000 motor vehicle crashes
  • Nearly $13 billion in monetary damages and losses

Experts have cautioned that lack of sleep – anything less than 6 hours at night—can severely hamper your reaction time, when a quick brake or swerve can mean the difference between life and death. Lack of sleep also negatively affects cognitive processing skills such as realizing another vehicle’s sudden stop, which in turn lowers performance times.

To put these numbers into better perspective, being awake for 18 consecutive hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol content level of .05%. Being awake for 24 straight hours is actually more detrimental than being legally intoxicated, as it yields the same impairment as someone with a blood alcohol content level of .10%.

During last week’s drowsy driving initiative forum, experts also talked about vehicle technology and the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of on-board devices that can detect driver fatigue. While studies on these novel devices have yet to be performed, this new technology may help reduce the risk of an accident.

Drowsy driving is negligent driving

Despite the known hazards of drowsy driving, it is virtually impossible to pass legislation that would prohibit individuals from getting behind the wheel when they are sleepy. And even though crashes involving drowsy driving are more complex than, say, a DUI accident, California still has negligence laws that hold drivers legally accountable for accidents and injuries they cause.

When a driver gets behind the wheel and acts in a reckless or careless manner that results in a collision, the victim may have a viable claim for damages for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering and emotional trauma.

Ellis Injury Law offers free legal consultations to those who have been injured or lost a loved one in a motor vehicle accident. To speak with a veteran Los Angeles car accident lawyer about the merits of your case, please call 310-641-3335.