Drowsy Driving Accidents: 1 in 10 Crashes Now Blamed by AAA on Sleepiness

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Drowsy driving accidents account for 1 in 10 crashes in the U.S., according to a new AAA study, far more than estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For the study released on Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, researchers followed 3,500 people in six locations for several months between October 2010 and December 2013.

Drowsiness was assessed using a validated measure based on the percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed. With the use of in-vehicle cameras and other equipment, they examined 701 accidents and found 8.8 to 9.5 percent were connected to drowsiness, CNN reported.

Researchers found that sleepiness was a factor in 10.6 to 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage, airbag deployment, or injury as well.

“While official statistics from the U.S. government indicate that only approximately 1 percent–2 percent of all motor vehicle crashes involve drowsy driving, many studies suggest that the true scope of the problem is likely to be much greater,” the AAA said.

“The results of this study stand in stark contrast to official statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. … Experts have long regarded such statistics, derived from police reports based on post-crash investigations, as vast underestimates of the scope of the problem.”

AAA researchers stated that there are no tests similar to a breathalyzer police can use at the roadside that can determine a driver’s alertness at the time of a crash.

“Moreover, a driver who was drowsy before a crash may appear fully alert afterward and may be reluctant to volunteer to the police that he or she was drowsy,” researchers said in the study. “In the case of a driver who was not actually asleep at the time of the crash but was operating at a reduced level of alertness, the driver may not even recognize that he or she was drowsy nor that drowsiness may have contributed to the crash.”

The study went on the say if a driver dies in an accident, there is no information that could determine his or her alertness beyond information from a passenger. AAA researchers stated that other sources are necessary to develop accurate estimates of the proportion of crashes that involve driver drowsiness.

Researchers urge motorists to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep before driving, according to CNN.

“The only true countermeasure to drowsiness is sleep,” William J. Horrey, traffic research group leader at the AAA foundation, said, per CNN.

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