AAA Foundation Study Finds Two Out of Five Drivers Admit to Falling Asleep at the Wheel

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FLORHAM PARK–According to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, two out of every five drivers (41%) admit to having fallen asleep behind the wheel at some point, with one in ten saying they’ve done so in the past year. More than a quarter of those surveyed admitted that they drove despite being so tired they had difficulty keeping their eyes open in the previous month.

Eighty-five percent of drivers surveyed felt it was “completely unacceptable” for someone to drive if they are so tired they are having trouble keeping their eyes open. Unfortunately, drivers may not always be aware of the effects of fatigue resulting from a lack of sleep. In recognition of Drowsy Driving Prevention Week® (November 8 – 15), hosted by the National Sleep Foundation, AAA wants all drivers to recognize the seriousness of this dangerous, yet underestimated, driving practice.

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“When you’re behind the wheel of a car, being sleepy is very dangerous. Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time and impairs judgment, just like drugs and alcohol, contributing to the possibility of a crash,” said Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation President and CEO. “We need to change the culture, so that drivers will not only recognize the dangers of driving while drowsy, but stop doing it.”

A new analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash data estimates that about one in six (16.5%) deadly crashes, one in eight crashes resulting in occupant hospitalization, and one in 14 crashes in which a vehicle was towed involve a driver who is drowsy. These percentages are substantially higher than most previous estimates, suggesting the contribution of drowsy driving to motor vehicle crashes, injuries and deaths has not been fully appreciated.

“Many of us tend to underestimate the negative effects associated with fatigue and sleep deprivation and, conversely, overestimate our abilities to overcome then while driving,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs for the AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. “The AAA Foundation study results and NHTSA data underscore the importance of educating drivers on the simple, yet effective, steps they can take to prevent a possible tragedy.”

The National Sleep Foundation has been championing better drowsy driving awareness and education since 1991. David Cloud, CEO, added, “It’s shocking to consider that one quarter of drivers admit to operating a vehicle in the last month in an incapacitated state. We applaud AAA’s work to elevate this issue for public scrutiny and action.”

The AAA New Jersey Automobile Club offers the following tips for remaining alert and avoiding drowsiness behind the wheel:

  • Get plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before a long trip.
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles.
  • Travel at times when you are normally awake or stay overnight rather than drive straight through.
  • Stop driving if you become sleepy. Someone who is tired could fall asleep at any time.

Symptoms of sleepiness include, but are not limited to:

  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open and focused;
  • The inability to keep your head up;
  • Daydreaming or having wandering, disconnected thoughts; and
  • Drifting from your lane or off the road, or tailgating.

These findings were part of the AAA Foundation’s third annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, a nationally representative survey conducted by Abt SRBI Inc. The Traffic Safety Culture Index was a telephone survey of 2,000 U.S. residents ages 16 and older conducted from May 11, 2010 through June 7, 2010. The estimated proportion of crashes involving a drowsy driver is based on analysis of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System, a nationally representative sample of crashes involving a passenger vehicle that was towed. Data analyzed was from years 1999 – 2008.

For more information about the drowsy driving study, including the full report and fact sheet, visit AAAFoundation.org.


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