17 Percent of Fatal Accidents Are Caused By Drivers Falling Asleep at the Wheel

Most people who drive have experienced fatigue while at the wheel; perhaps a moment or two of slowly drifting off, but then catching themselves before anything serious happens. According to the American Association of Automobiles Traffic Safety Foundation, 41 percent of drivers have admitted to falling asleep at the wheel at least once.

The study also reported that sleepy drivers accounted for an average of 4,400 fatal car accidents between 1999 and 2008, or nearly 17 percent of all fatal crashes. About one in eight automobile crashes due to driver fatigue resulted in injuries requiring hospitalization.

The National Sleep Foundation, which studied the effects of fatigue on driving, compared the lack of sleep over 24 hours to driving with a blood alcohol content level of 0.1 percent, which is well above the legal limit of 0.08 in all 50 states. In many ways, driving drowsy is equivalent to driving drunk.

When the body wants to sleep, it releases certain chemicals like melatonin. Fighting off those chemicals to stay awake can leave a person in a dazed condition and impair his or her judgment and coordination.

Despite feeling fatigued, many motorists overestimate their ability to handle driving. For some drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents, they may not have been aware that their vehicle was drifting into another lane or off the roadway until it was too late.

The symptoms of road fatigue include daydreaming, disconnected thoughts, eyes closing and the vehicle drifting from its lane or the roadway. To prevent yourself from being a drowsy driver, follow these safety tips:

  • Try to get at least six hours of sleep before undertaking a long driving trip.
  • Travel with a companion and make sure that person remains awake.
  • Schedule a stop every 100 miles, or alternate driving with a companion.
  • If you feel yourself drifting off, stop and find a motel for the night.
  • If you have to continue driving, drink a caffeinated beverage and wait 30 minutes for it to take effect.

Many fatal car accidents from driver fatigue do happen during the daytime. Recognizing that you are tired and that driving in a fatigued condition is risky will help prevent a tragedy from happening.