CDC Survey Highlights Prevalence of Drowsy Driving

The issue of drowsy, or fatigued, driving is in the news again after the release of a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The largest survey completed to date includes responses from 147,076 drivers to questions about insufficient sleep. The results are alarming.

According to the survey, 4.2 percent of respondents admitted to falling asleep while driving at least once within the last 30 days. Men were more likely to drive while drowsy than women, and younger drivers were more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel than older drivers. In addition, the survey found a direct correlation between sleeping less than six hours and drowsy driving.

The survey was part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System during 2009–2010. Adults in 19 states and the District of Columbia were surveyed.

The problem of drowsy driving is not new. Experts have been concerned about the prevalence of fatigued driving and the car accidents it causes for some time now. Until now, however, statistics regarding the prevalence of drowsy driving were hard to come by. Even the results of the CDC survey are thought to be a conservative estimate of how many drowsy drivers are on the road. The survey, for example, excluded teenage drivers, a demographic that is thought to be prone to driving while fatigued.

Accurate statistics regarding drowsy driving are difficult to compile because drivers are often reluctant to admit that they nodded off behind the wheel or are unaware that they fell asleep. In addition, state reporting practices are inconsistent, making it hard to accurately determine how many accidents are caused by drowsy drivers.

We do know, however, that drowsy driving is dangerous to everyone on the roadways. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Concluded that a driver who has slept for only six to seven hours is twice as likely to be involved in a collision as a driver who slept for eight or more hours. Sleeping less than six hours raises the crash risk four to five times that of an eight-hour sleeper.

To keep from nodding off behind the wheel, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you:

  • Get at least eight hours of sleep the night before.
  • Drive with a companion and share the driving responsibilities when possible.
  • Ask passengers to stay awake to talk to you.
  • Stop and rest every 100 miles or every two hours.
  • Avoid alcohol or medications that cause drowsiness.
  • Stop and take a 15-20 minute nap if necessary.
  • Avoid long rural roadways, especially at night, if possible.