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Less Than 4 Hours of Sleep? New Study Says You're 15 Times More Likely to Cause an Auto Accident

By: Allan M. Siegel

Over the past several years, numerous studies and public health and safety campaigns have focused on reminding us just how dangerous driving while tired can be. Although fatigue and a lack of sleep have become part of daily life for many working class Americans, these efforts have shown us that drowsy driving does pose significant risks on our roadways and, according to an older study from 2016, can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

While the risks make sense, researchers haven’t let up on studying the impact of fatigue when it comes to our driving abilities. In fact, new research is suggesting sleep-deprived drivers may be an even bigger problem than previously thought.

The study, conducted by the Sleep Research Society and published in the scientific journal SLEEP, analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which includes detailed investigatory notes about nearly 5,500 car accidents, as well as interviews with drivers. From those reports, researchers made some significant findings:

  • Drivers who said they got less than 4 hours of sleep were 15.1x more likely to cause a wreck than those who got the recommended 7 to 9 hours of rest. That crash risk is comparable to driving with a BAC level 1.5 times over the legal limit of .08 (which is about nine or more drinks for someone of average size).
  • Drivers with 4 or fewer hours of sleep in a 24-hour time frame also had the highest risks of being involved in single-vehicle accidents, which NHTSA reports more frequently result in catastrophic injuries or deaths as compared to two-vehicle collisions.
  • Drivers with varying levels of insufficient rest all had increased accident risks, according to the study. This includes a 1.3x crash risk for 6 hours of sleep, 1.9x for 5 hours, and 2.9x the chances of causing a crash for those who slept between 4 to 5 hours.
  • The study also noted that motorists who drove for 3 hours or more without taking a break were more likely to crash, as were drivers with sleeping schedules which had changed within the past week, a finding corroborates by previous studies which have found an increase in accidents following daylight saving time.

The study’s findings add to the growing log of research and reviews which highlight the dangers of driver fatigue. This includes a recent study from earlier this year which associated severe sleep apnea, a medical condition that can cause breathing obstruction at night and sleep disruption, with a 123% increased car accident risk, with less severe forms of the condition still posing significant crash risks. In the past, we have discussed the dangers of untreated sleep apnea, especially among commercial drivers. Despite the known dangers, however, federal regulators announced late last year that they would not pursue regulations to address sleep apnea in truckers and others who drive commercial vehicles.

Sufficient Sleep: Avoiding Fatigue & Reducing Risks

As we all know well enough, sleep is a critical component to the way we function in our daily lives, whether that’s completing job-related tasks, doing chores around the home, or remembering our “to-do” lists. For any number of reasons, though, most Americans tend to view fatigue as an unavoidable part of life, and tend to underestimate the dangers they pose to themselves and to others when they get behind the wheel while deprived of sleep. To help ensure your safety and the safety of those around you, it’s important to prioritize sufficient and quality sleep, and take steps to avoid drowsy driving. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Experts recommend between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults, but that number may be more for younger adults or adolescents, including teen drivers.
  • Chronic fatigue is a problem that can rack up quickly. Even if you miss out on sleep on one or several nights, researchers say you can make up some of that “sleep debt” by sleeping more in the following days.
  • If you’re driving for an extended period of time, or feel that fatigue is compromising your driving abilities, take a break, pull over for a nap, and / or consume caffeine for short-term help.
  • Sufficient rest is critical on longer road trips, as is driving during the day, making plans for rest stops, and trading off periodically with more rested drivers when possible.

CSCS: Fighting for Accident Victims Across DC, Virginia & Maryland

Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. has been providing personalized support and award-winning legal representation to victims and families throughout the DC Metro area for decades. Comprised of nationally recognized trial attorneys, our team has the experience how to effectively guide clients through the personal injury process following all types of motor vehicle accidents, including those caused by fatigued and negligent motorists or careless companies that failed to meet their legal obligations.

If you have a question about a potential auto accident case and how our firm can help you, contact us for a FREE and confidential consultation.