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Wake up! Drowsy driving causes more deadly car accidents than we ever imagined

August 15, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

AAA-FTS study shows drowsy driving involved in 21% of ‘fatal crashes’ — rather than 2.5% of car wrecks as officials previously estimated


Drowsy driving is involved in 1 of every 5 fatal crashes in the U.S.

But almost no one knows just how dangerous and deadly drowsy driving truly is.

In fact, until a study by the AAA-Foundation For Traffic Safety provided a bright-eyed “wake-up-call” about the real and prevalent dangers of drowsy driving and fatal car accidents, governmental safety officials had estimated that only “2.5% of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.”

Now we know.

The AAA-FTS’s “Prevalence of Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Drowsy Drivers, United States, 2009–2013” study shows that previous statistics on car wrecks caused by drowsy driving were a gross, underestimation of the real prevalence of this threat we all face on our roads when driving:

“21% of fatal crashes [“crashes in which a person was killed”] involve a drowsy driver.”

This is an important study because it draws the public’s — and lawmakers’ — attention to a safety issue that accident lawyers like me — who devote their legal careers already know all too well: Over-tired, sleepy drivers are dangerous and, too often, deadly drivers.

Indeed, in my previous auto law blog post, “Who’s the most dangerous driver – Texting, drunk, high or drowsy?,” I pointed out the fact that drowsy drivers are “nearly 5 times as likely to crash” as a driver who had 8 or more hours of sleep.

Given the dangers posed by drowsy driving, I’ve called on the Michigan Legislature to enact a law specifically prohibiting drowsy driving — just like the state has criminalized texting while driving and drunk and drug-impaired driving.

Drowsy driving and injury-related car accidents

“Fatal crashes” wasn’t the only category of wrecks in which governmental safety officials had underestimated the prevalence of drowsy driving.

Whereas official statistics had suggested that “2.2% of crashes that result in injuries” involved a drowsy driver, the AAA-FTS study concluded the following:

  • “7% of crashes that result in any injuries” involved “a drowsy driver”;
  • “13% of crashes that result in severe injuries requiring hospitalization” involved “a drowsy driver.”

Drowsy driving and car crashes requiring a tow

The AAA-FTS study reported that, in contrast to “[o]fficial government statistics [which] suggest that 1.4% of all crashes … involve a drowsy driver, “as many as 6% of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed from the scene” involved a drowsy driver.

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