Transportation Studies
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December 06, 2016

Study: Crash risk related to driving while tired similar to DUI

Drivers who miss a couple hours of sleep are just as likely as those who are legally drunk to be involved in a car crash, according to a recent study.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released Tuesday a report that examined the link between motor vehicle crashes and motorists' sleep habits. Findings show that Americans do not completely grasp the dangers involved with drowsy driving, which contribute to 20 percent of crashes nationwide.

“You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Researchers analyzed 4,571 crashes involving 7,234 drivers from July 2005 and December 2007 that occurred between 6 a.m. and midnight. The incidents also needed to be investigated by a law enforcement officer and require a tow truck to remove one of the damaged vehicles from the scene.

The study found that missing just two hours of sleep more than quadrupled the crash risk, the same as driving over the legal limit for alcohol. Also, the crash risk associated with sleepy drivers increased as sleep time decreased:

• Six to seven hours of sleep: 1.3 times the crash risk
• Five to six hours of sleep: 1.9 times the crash risk
• Four to five hours of sleep: 4.3 times the crash risk
• Less than four hours of sleep: 11.5 times the crash risk

Even more troubling, an AAA Foundation poll revealed that 97 percent of drivers viewed drowsy driving as "completely unacceptable behavior," but one in three admitted to doing exactly that in the past month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults report sleeping less than the recommended seven hours a day regularly.

“Failing to maintain a healthy sleep schedule could mean putting yourself or others on the road at risk,” said Jake Nelson, director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research for AAA.

Researchers warned that the study could be limited due to drivers were self-reporting sleep data and did not control for use of drugs and/or alcohol.

The study noted that crashes that occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. were not taken into account because previous studies have already determined that the effects of sleep deprivation may be greater during those hours.