The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found in its study that 21 percent of car crashes that ended in at least one fatality are the result of drivers getting behind the wheel when they weren’t fully awake. That’s an estimated 6,000 fatigue-related fatal crashes per year.
“This new research further confirms that drowsy driving is a serious traffic safety problem,” Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a press release. “Unfortunately, drivers often underestimate this risk and overestimate their ability to combat drowsiness behind the wheel.”
As the sun starts to go down earlier during evening commutes and college students go home for holiday breaks, drowsy driving may become more of a problem. Research by the same foundation showed young adults ages 19 to 24 were more likely than any other age group to report driving while fatigued — more than 1 in 3 said they had done so in the last month.
Younger drivers were also more likely to nod off while driving than older adults. A 2012 survey found at least one in seven licensed drivers aged 16 to 24 years old reported they fell asleep while driving at least once in the past year. In comparison, one in 10 of all licensed drivers said they fell asleep at the wheel.
Fatigued drivers may be easily distracted and unable to focus on the road, drive poorly because of wandering thoughts or have an inability to remember the last few miles they traveled.
Valerie Lindsey, co-owner of Bloomington Driving School, said she’s concerned about distracted drivers in general. She teaches new drivers to watch for congested roads, avoid drivers with road rage and not text or call while behind the wheel because it can lead to distracted driving.
“Even though it’s against the law, I still see a lot of people in Bloomington texting and driving,” she said. “I think we have a lot more distracted drivers today.”
Lindsey said as the weather gets colder, drivers need to take extra precautions, which includes getting their tires and engine fluids checked before winter sets in and making safety kits for their cars with blankets and flashlights.
“Despite the fact that 95 percent of Americans deem it ‘unacceptable’ to drive when they are so tired that they have a hard time keeping their eyes open, more than 28 percent admit to doing so in the last month,” Kissinger said in the release. “Like other impairments, driving while drowsy is not without risk.”