Study Finds Sleep-Deprived Drivers Are More Likely to Cause Accidents

Feeling tired behind the wheel? It may be in your best interests to pull over and take a nap.

A new report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers who are sleep-deprived are much more likely to be involved in serious road accidents. In fact, drivers who had less than five hours of sleep within the previous 24 hours had crash risks on par with that of drunk drivers.

“If you have not slept seven or more hours in a given 24-hour period, you really shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research.

Despite widespread awareness of the risks of drinking and driving, many Americans are unaware or neglectful of the dangers of driving on too little sleep. An estimated one in three people in the U.S. don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep on a regular basis, studies show, whether because of stress, work and family obligations, or a simple lack of planning.

“Look at your lifestyle,” said Dr. Erich Voigt, a sleep researcher at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “Put aside eight hours that you know you will get sleep. Set your sleep and wake times at the same time every day of the week so you know when you’re going to bed and you know when you’re waking up.”

The report came from an analysis of 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey. Of the six million accidents that occur in the United States every year, averaging about one every 10 seconds, the data included information from accidents where at least one vehicle had to be towed and emergency services had to be called to the scene.

“It happens in an instant,” said Karen Roberts, a Cincinnati nurse who was involved in an accident several years ago after falling asleep behind the wheel while she was driving home from a night shift. “Sleep is a bigger priority for me now… It’s a necessity.”

Sleep-deprived drivers should think about other transportation alternatives when they are feeling too groggy or tired to drive, Voigt said.

“It’s a matter of being honest with yourself and perhaps having someone else drive or if you’re traveling with someone, have them look for the signs of you being too sleepy,” he told CBS News. “Or take a cab or public transportation. Or don’t take the trip at all.”

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