A report released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that sleep-deprived drivers are just as dangerous as drivers who have had one too many and are too drunk to drive. In fact, driving with four to five hours of sleep was comparable to driving with a blood alcohol content at or above the legal limit. The report draws from a rising tide of research and past studies to raise awareness about the dangers of fatigued driving.
In a time when many Americans are constantly on the go and working long hours, sleep deprivation is a real problem, both to personal health and the safety of millions of drivers on the road. According to the CDC, roughly 35% of Americans get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep, and 12% sleep for 5 hours or less.
When you combine these facts with what we know about being tired – something everyone has experienced at some point – earlier research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that shows 21% of fatal wrecks involve sleep-deprived drivers makes sense.
In the new report, researchers used data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey to take a closer look at how driving abilities are affected with varying amounts of sleep deprivation. To put their findings simply: the less sleep, the higher the crash risk.
Here are some details about the report:
- Drivers who slept for less than 5 hours have a comparable crash risk to drunk drivers.
- Crash risks of sleeping less than 4 hours are comparable to having a BAC of .12 – .15.
- Drivers who slept less than 4 of the past 24 hours had an 11.5% increased crash risk
- Drivers who slept less than 4-5 hours – 4.3% higher crash risk
- Drivers who slept less than 5-7 hours – 1.9% higher crash risk
While the study reviewed over 4,500 crashes, researchers state that it might even underestimate the risks of fatigued driving because no data was available on wrecks that took place between midnight and 6 a.m. – time periods where studies have found the effects of sleep deprivation to be greatest.
In addition to evaluating crash risks in relation to a lack of sleep each night, the report also analyzed whether unusual sleep schedules contributed to a crash. Truck drivers, nurses, and law enforcement officers commonly have fractured sleep schedules – and researchers noted a causal relationship in 6% of crashes with this type of sleep schedule.
The study is an important step in educating the public about the risks of driving while fatigued. While we have well-known laws and criminal penalties for drunk driving, the public does not view fatigued driving in the same way. Additionally, these studies can help support legislation to tighten regulations for truckers and commercial operators in order to keep tired drivers from getting behind the wheel of large vehicles.