Much has been published and reported by all forms of media about different forms of reckless and dangerous driving—driving under the influence, teenage driving etc. A new potentially-lethal behavior on the road is being revealed: drowsy driving.

Is drowsy driving really that serious; could it be more than just being a little tired behind the wheel? A study by researchers in Australia found that being awake for 18 hours caused an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05, and .10 after 24 hours; .08 is considered legally drunk.

One may think that in a tech-driven world in which thousands of time-saving, safety-enhancing apps are created daily, more technology may be focused on combating such a simple but extremely harmful situation. New forthcoming research and early-stage devices are looking to address this exact problem. In the following article, the data on drowsy driving will be examined, as well as the new technology looking to fight it.

Drowsy Driving Stats and FiguresOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How common is drowsy driving in America? A 2005 study by the National Sleep Foundation found that about 60% of drivers admitted to driving drowsy at least once in the last year (that’s over 165 million people!). Even more than a third of drivers claimed to have completely fallen asleep at the wheel. Over 11% of drivers stated that they had experienced an accident or “near accident” due to driving while fatigued. This type of reckless driving results in the following (conservative) figures:

  • 100,000 automobile accidents a year
  • 1,550 deaths
  • 72,000 injuries
  • $12.5 billion in damages

However, these statistics are estimates largely based on the states’ under-reporting, and the driver’s self-reporting, and may be much larger by some estimates. There is no exact measurement test for whether or not a driver is drowsy, such as a “breathalyzer.” In other countries with more stringent data collection such as Finland and Australia, drowsy driving is thought to cause anywhere between 10 to 30 percent of all car crashes.

  • Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a sleep-related crash; the less people sleep, the greater the risk. It truly is a dangerous behavior and situation.

    According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in such a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more, while people sleeping less than 5 hours increased their risk four to five times. (AAA Foundation Org.)

Who is Most Likely to Drive Drowsy?

Falling in line with the notion that teenage and younger drivers can be the most dangerous, they are also the most likely to drive drowsy with 71% of 18-29 reporting that they had driven drowsy once in the past year. It drops to 50% for 30–64-year-olds, and all the way down to 19% of 65+. These numbers clearly go against the adage that elderly drivers often nap or doze off while driving. On the contrary, younger drivers are the most likely to drive drowsy due to late-night driving—a time when elderly drivers very rarely drive.

Some research indicates that commercial drivers and those with undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or acute insomnia are also at greater risk for fall asleep crashes.

When Am I at Risk?

The following are situations that should be avoided to prevent drowsy driving. Nearly all deal with some combination of sleep deprivation and driving.

  • Although nearly always preventable with a proper night’s rest, morning and afternoon commutes are often a source of drowsy driving.
  • Notably, often sleep deprivation leads to greater levels of stressed driving, driving faster, and more impatient driving (NSF’s 2000 Sleep in America).
  • Often, crashes or near-misses occur at the following times:

4:00 – 6:00 a.m.; midnight – 2:00 a.m.; and 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

What Alternative Prevention Methods Exist?

New Driver Warning Systems

Besides combating drowsy driving with sleeping well and avoiding getting behind the wheel while fatigued, new technology is coming forth to address the issue. One study found that devices measuring the contours of a driver’s lips could be a valuable asset to monitoring driver fatigue. A tiny camera monitors the

“deformation occurring on the driver’s face and accurately identify the yawn from other types of mouth opening such as talking and singing,”

When the camera detects a “yawning form,” an alarm sounds, and in some models apply the brakes.

Other versions of warning systems monitor the posture of the driver (such as the Lane Monitoring System that Toyota offers with certain Lexus models) and even the overall driver stability. Volvo’s Driver Alert Control (DAC), a feature available since 2007, has a mechanism designed to determine whether the car is being driven in a controlled or uncontrolled manner, often relating to speed fluctuation and rapid turning/drifting.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered the following benefits to the driver warning systems:

The most important benefit of an in-vehicle system is to promote safety. In the case of the DDWS the safety benefits could be drawn from multiple aspects, including reduction of on-the­-job drowsiness, improved sleep hygiene, and ultimately a reduced number of safety-critical events (SCEs) related to drowsy drivers.

Research continues to develop on monitoring a driver’s eye movement, but is currently said to be premature.

Preventing Drowsy Driving

Following simple tips can go a long way in preventing an accident due to drowsy driving:

  1. Get a good night’s rest, especially before taking a long trip.
  2. DON’T DRIVE if you’re tired.
  3. Take a power nap.
  4. Travel with someone.
  5. Schedule Breaks.

Drowsy driving is slowly becoming a commonly-discussed topic, but it needs to go further. 60% of parents with driving-age children reported that they had not discussed drowsy driving. A voice of warning is needed to prevent further tragic accidents from occurring.

At Christensen & Hymas, we encourage safe driving and a strict adherence to all traffic laws. Be sure to read through the above tips about drowsy driving to ensure you and those in the car with you are safe.

Unfortunately, not all drivers practice good driving techniques with harmful consequences. Christensen & Hymas provide the best legal team to help you be compensated for all medical costs, damages, and wrongful deaths while you and your loved ones focus on recovering and healing. Call us today at 801-506-0800 for a free consultation. We believe strongly that compassionate service is our duty to you as your legal representative.

Photo courtesy of Philkon Phil Konstantin

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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