Drowsy driving kills costs—$109 Billion

wakeupcallLoss of sleep leads to tragic consequences on our roadways. A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), reports nearly 83.6 million sleep-deprived Americans are driving every day. 5,000 lives were lost in drowsy driving-related crashes last year.

The extreme danger posed by tired drivers has prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand its definition of impaired driving to include not only drunk, drugged and distracted, but also drowsy. In a newly available NHTSA estimate provided to GHSA for this report, the agency reveals the annual societal cost of fatigue-related fatal and injury crashes is a staggering $109 billion, not including property damage.

Wake Up Call! Understanding Drowsy Driving and What States Can Do, comes as U.S. motor vehicle deaths were up 7.7 percent nationwide in 2015, examines the cause and effect of drowsy driving as well as how states and others can best address it. It also discusses legislative, enforcement, education, and engineering countermeasures being employed as well as in-vehicle technologies that are available today or on the horizon.

While estimates of deaths caused by drowsy drivers range from 2% to 20% of all traffic fatalities, safety officials agree that the extent of the problem is not fully Known.

Drowsy driving is no joke. A sleepy driver is just as a dangerous as a drunk driver.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH, 2011), of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and AAA (2016) offer the following life-saving tips for avoiding drowsy driving:

  • Be well rested before hitting the road. Several nights of fewer than 7-8 hours of sleep slows your reaction time, resulting in a sleep debt. It may take several nights of being well rested to repay that debt and make you ready for a long road trip.
  • Avoid driving between midnight and 7 a.m. and in the mid-afternoon, times when we are naturally the least alert and most tired.
  • Do not drive alone. If possible, travel with a well-rested passenger who can engage you in conversation and share the driving.
  • Schedule frequent breaks on long trips; stop every two hours or 100 miles.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Just one beer when you are sleep deprived mimics the effect of two or three whe nyou are well rested.
  • Do not rely on caffeine to keep you awake.

NHTSA is, however, doing more than adding a fourth D to the discussion. In March, the agency unveiled its first-everDrowsy Driving Research and Program Plan to enhance the science and program initiatives. The multi-year blueprint
addresses six broad focus areas: measurement Ten projects are outlined
under the focus areas and all are underway including development of drowsy driving program guidelines for State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs), reporting protocols for drowsy driving, law enforcement training, messaging and
public education materials, and EMS fatigue management guidelines (NHTSA, 2016).

To help State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) address the behavioral side of drowsy driving and develop strategies to combat it, the report explores the crash characteristics and drivers who are most at risk.

Teens and young adults are involved in more than half of all drowsy driving crashes annually. People who work nights or long or irregular shifts are also more likely to get behind the wheel when they are too tired to drive, along with the estimated 40 million Americans who suffer from a sleep disorder.

That, said report author Pam Fischer, merits a change in how we view sleep. “Sleep is a restorative and life-sustaining activity that is just as important as eating right and exercising. When we skimp on sleep, we’re less able to react quickly – a critical element of safe driving. Our mental and physical health also suffers.”

Drowsy driving crashes, however, typically exhibit the following common characteristics:
  • They occur late at night, in the early morning hours or in mid-afternoon
  • They are likely to result in serious injury or death.
  • They involve a single vehicle leaving the roadway.
  • They occur on high speed roadways.
  • They involve a driver traveling alone.
  • There is no evidence of braking.
Drowsy drivers have:
  • Slower reaction times
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased levels of risk taking
  • More frequent blinking/eye closure
  • Deficits in cognitive performance
  • Memory impairment
  • Attention failure
  • Loss of visual awareness

The report recommends SHSOs partner with other sectors, including public health, business, academia, and nonprofits, to change the culture. “Just like drunk driving and seat belts, it’s going to take all of us to get the public to recognize the seriousness of drowsy driving,” stressed Fischer.

Wake Up Call! highlights some states that are working collaboratively to address the problem:

In Iowa, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau joined with law enforcement, elected officials, community and business partners, and researchers to convene the nation’s first statewide drowsy driving summit. The summit covered research on the extent of the problem and strategies to address it, such as in-vehicle technology, stepped-up enforcement, weekly safety reminders on variable message signs, and public outreach through a partnership with one of the state’s largest supermarket chains.

In Utah, highway signs reminding motorists that Drowsy Driving Causes Crashes and encouraging Drowsy Drivers [to] Pull Over if Necessary are credited with reducing the incidence of these crashes by as much as 63%. Meanwhile, the Sleep Smart. Drive Smart Alliance, a public-private partnership, has been educating the public about the hazards of driving sleepy since 2005. Drowsy driving is addressed in the state’s teen driving program and at parent nights, and novice drivers must pass an online test that assesses their knowledge of drowsy driving before obtaining a permit.

New York State’s safety, education and health officials are partnering to educate teens about drowsy driving through the development of a standardized driver education curriculum, an interactive school-based initiative, later school start times, and a statewide coalition.

The report was funded through a grant from State Farm® with guidance from an expert panel.

GHSA will hold a webinar to discuss key findings and recommendations on August 11 at 2 p.m. EDT. Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5612028670699401217.