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American's Sleep Deprivation Resulting in Car Accidents

Updated on February 14, 2012

People Falling Asleep at the Wheel

In a previous article, we talked about the dangers of Eating and Driving. In this article, we talk about drowsy driving. An even bigger problem than drowsy driving is that 250,000 people per day in the United States is falling asleep at the wheel -- many of which results in car accidents, which causes some to wake up (if they are lucky) and more sadly some do not wake up from the accident.

If one is fortunate, perhaps one is woken up before an accident occurs either by the horns of passing motorists or by safety devices such as rumble strips at the side of the road.

We are talking about a quarter of million people falling asleep at the wheel every day (not in a year). That means on an annual basis, 91 million fall asleep at the wheel. That's a lot of people falling asleep while driving.

It is estimated that 24 hours of sleep deprivation impairs driving ability as if being legally drunk.[9]

More Statistics

Can that be true? That many people falling asleep while driving? Where did that number come from?

At the time of this writing in March 2011, that number ...

  • was seen on Wikipedia under Sleep-deprived driving[1]
  • reported on Science Friday on March 11, 2011 episode[3]
  • found on[5]

Data was according to the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and in a national poll by National Sleep Foundation.[5]

Drivers who are drowsy has slower reaction time, less aware of surroundings, and have impaired judgment. This causes more than 100,000 accidents a year resulting in 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries.[7] There is a study that shows that people who are sleep-deprived have decrease "loss aversion" are have higher risk-taking behavior.[3]

Drowsy driving is preventable just like drinking and driving is preventable.

Around 70% of working adults get 6 hours of sleep or less.[10] American's are so sleep-deprived that there are businesses providing sleep pods for people to rent for a quick nap. They are in some major airports and in metropolitan cities. Some pods can completely block out light. Well, it is certainly better than napping at a restroom stall, which some people have done.


How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

Some tips on how to avoid drowsy driving.

  • Get a good night sleep the day before (that's obvious)
  • Don't drive when you are sleepy (that also means that you have to be aware and monitor yourself to detect when you are becoming sleepy).
  • Don't take alcohol or medications that would make you drowsy if you are going to operate a motor vehicle.
  • Instead, take a companion along so he/she can wake you or keep you awake with conversation if you seem drowsy. (Radio doesn't work as well, since people have fallen asleep even with the radio turned on.)
  • Take naps and schedule breaks in long road trips.

And if you see a sign telling you "Drowsy Drivers Use Next Exit", then do as you are told.

See also AAA Foundation brochure[6] and Drowsy Driving Awareness Week article by Florida's Department of Transportation.[8]

Florida's Drowsy Driving Awareness Week in 2010 was the week of September 6 to 10th.

Why Are American So Sleep-Deprived?

How prevalent is this problem? A 2009 poll, found that within the past year ...

  • about one-third of Americans said they had fallen asleep while driving
  • about half said they have driven while drowsy.[7]

It is estimated that drowsiness and fatigue causes 100,000 car crashes a year.[reference]

All the technology of smart phones, 24/7 news cycles, Internet, and emails keeps them up late at night. And as you know, these information can come at all hours of the day and night. They say things like "Oops, I just got a text message", "let me clear through all these email first", "I just got a tweet", "someone updated a facebook status", etc.

Many Americans also have the syndrome known as "too much to do and too little time to do it in". Many have bought into the notion that "You snooze, you lose". When in reality, if you don't snooze, you lose" (and sometimes in a big way).

Companies in the United States are more competitive these days, where information is expected to be responded to instantly. And employees are expected to get as much done as soon as possible. That terms "as soon as possible" is so often used in the corporate world, they they simply write it as "ASAP" now. Again, by using the acronym, it is their attempt to increase efficiency and get more done -- 15 less letters to type.

Many are working longer shifts . USAToday reports that finally first-year doctors are allowed to have shorter work shifts -- that is down to 16-hour shifts instead of their formerly 24-hour shifts.[4]

If you are working 16-hours shifts, how are you going to get 8 good hours of sleep (assuming there are still 24 hours in a day)? Granted, doctors may be an extreme case, but 12-hour shifts are not uncommon these days.


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