Driving While Drowsy More Than Doubles the Risk of a Car Crash: Study

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Driving while drowsy might be just as dangerous as driving while drunk, according to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Even sleeping just five or six hours in a 24-hour period can double the chances of crashing, compared to people who get at least seven hours of sleep.

Flickr Image Courtesy: Kristian Bjornard, CC BY-SA 2.0
Flickr Image Courtesy: Kristian Bjornard, CC BY-SA 2.0

The less sleep a person gets, the higher the crash rate. For instance, if a person only got about four or five hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, they were four times more likely to get into a car accident, which is close to crash rate among drunk drivers.

“If you have not slept seven or more hours in a given 24-hour period, you really shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car,” Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research for AAA told NPR.

Previous research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 7 percent of all car accidents occurred due to sleepiness and 21 percent of fatal car accidents involved drowsy drivers.

Related: Sleepy Workers are Costing the US Billions in Lost Productivity

In 2015, 35,092 people died in car accidents, according to analyses from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That number was up by 7.2 percent from the previous year.

Symptoms of drowsy driving include yawning or blinking frequently, drifting from your lane and not remembering that last few miles driven.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of American adults do not get enough sleep per night.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” said Wayne Giles, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of Population Health.

To help combat sleepy driving during long trips, try pulling over for a 10 to 20 minute nap, or try taking turns with a passenger.

In addition to devastating car accidents, sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.

But there are many things people can do in order to help get into a healthy sleep routine.

“Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need,” Giles said.

Sometimes, when it’s nearly impossible to get a full night’s sleep, it is possible to catch up on missed sleep, at least to a point. For example, if you’re only able to get about five hours of sleep during the night, you could make it up by taking a two hour nap during another part of the day.

“As long as you get seven to eight hours of sleep within a 24-hour period before you get behind the wheel of a car, you’re OK,” Nelson told NPR.

Danielle Tarasiuk
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.
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