How Lack of Sleep Affects Car Accident Risk

Not enough sleep? Be careful when driving. Sleep deprivation is linked to accidents.

Skimping on sleep means taking risks behind the wheel

Skip out on sleep and you’re likely to be facing some serious consequences — and we’re not just talking sleep-deprived work- or school-related consequences, either. A lack of sleep can actually exponentially increase your chances of getting in a serious car accident, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Drowsy driving — a term the CDC has coined for driving while sleep-deprived — is a real issue in the United States, and it’s not just caused by those late nights on the town or an uncomfortable bed just crying out for a good mattress topper, either. Drowsy driving can be due to a number of issues, including untreated sleep disorders, medications, drinking alcohol, or shift work. The stats on drowsy driving are pretty scary:

  • According to the CDC, a whopping 1 in 25 adult drivers have fallen asleep behind the wheel of a car in the last 30 days;
  • It tends to be a bigger issue for younger drivers, with drivers under the age of 25 being responsible for an estimated 50 percent of the drowsy driving accidents;
  • About half of all U.S. drivers have admitted to regularly getting behind the wheel while drowsy, according to the American Sleep Foundation;
  • About 20 percent of adult drivers admit to falling asleep behind the wheel at some point in the past year, according to the ASF, and
  • More than 40 percent admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel at least once in their driving careers.

Driving while sleep-deprived is clearly a pretty significant issue among adult drivers in the U.S., and the problem with drowsy driving is multi-pronged. Part of the issue is that not only is it impossible to know when your body is going to fall asleep at the wheel but also that it’s also just as dangerous to be drowsy as it is to actually fall asleep behind the wheel. In fact, being drowsy behind the wheel is just as dangerous as driving while tipsy. Studies have shown that going more than 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, or the U.S. legal limit. And, like driving while tipsy, drowsy driving can cause a number of serious issues, including:

  • A lack of attention to the road or hazards/cars on the road
  • An impaired ability to make sudden decisions
  • A slower reaction time, meaning it can take you longer to brake or swerve in case of emergency

Needless to say, issues like the inability to make sudden decisions or slower reaction times can lead to some very serious consequences for both you and other drivers on the road, and the stats are harrowing. Let’s take a look:

  • You are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you are sleep-deprived.
  • Every year, there are about 100,000 police-reported crashes that involve drowsy driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • The 100,000 drowsy driving car accidents each year result in more than 1,550 fatalities and 71,000 injuries.
  • A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated the number of drowsy driving accidents to be much higher than the NHTSA estimates. According to AAA, 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually, which is over three times the NHTSA stats.
  • The AAA study found that 109,000 of those drowsy driving crashes resulted in an injury, and about 6,400 were fatal.

Drowsy driving is costing drivers their lives, and in turn, it’s costing the rest of us quite a hefty sum of money, too — and we’re talking billions of dollars. Driving while fatigued costs society about $109 billion each year, according to the NHTSA.

Given the serious costs of driving while tired — both physically and financially — it’s important to know what the signs of driving while fatigued are. Pay attention to physical symptoms like these:

  • Excessive yawning or blinking, which can be a sign that your body is trying to stay awake.
  • Trouble remembering the road signs and exits you’ve just passed.
  • Driving past your exit is another red flag — your brain is too tired to notice.
  • Drifting in and out of other lanes. If you snap to attention after rolling over some road bumps or reflective lights, it’s probably time to pull over.

And next time, get a good night's sleep!

Resources— CDC, NSCNewsroom AAA