The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that approximately 91,000 “police-reported” motor vehicle accidents in 2017 involved drowsy driving, or the operation of a motor vehicle while sleepy or fatigued. A resource maintained by the NHTSA offers helpful statistics about drowsy driving, as well as tips for avoiding it.
While it is difficult to identify exactly how many traffic injuries and fatalities involve drowsy driving, the NHTSA believes that those 91,000 crashes in 2017 “led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths.” The agency cautions, however, that this number is very likely an underestimate: the phenomenon is much more common than the figures reveal.
According to the NHTSA, drowsy driving incidents are most common in the late afternoon or between 12am and 6am, both periods in which the average person enters the low point of their circadian rhythms—in which they become sleepy, in other words. The NHTSA adds that drowsy driving incidents frequently involve vehicles with no passengers, in which the motorist steers “off the road at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking.” These incidents often happen “on rural roads and highways,” per the NHTSA’s data.
The NHTSA offers a number of tips to help drivers stay alert while operating their motor vehicles. Perhaps most important is getting enough sleep every night, lowering the odds that drivers get sleepy while they’re at the wheel. The NHTSA cautions that teenage drivers should take particular care to get adequate sleep before driving, as teens often “do not get enough sleep at a stage in life when their biological need for sleep increases, which makes them vulnerable to the risk of drowsy-driving crashes.”
Another tip is to avoid consuming alcoholic beverages before driving, and to avoid taking any medications that cause drowsiness before getting behind the wheel. The NHTSA finally advises that drivers try their best not to drive “during the peak sleepiness periods”—that is, 12am-6am and in the late afternoon—and to remain hyper-aware of their own wakefulness levels while they’re on the road.
More information about drowsy driving is available via the NHTSA.