With the news full of concerns about sleep deprivations and its dangers, the latest report out of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds on to the already-existing concerns: the most recent survey has revealed that one out of every twenty-five drivers in the United States confesses to having fallen asleep while driving in the thirty days prior to the survey.
In case you find yourself thinking that those at risk represent a narrowly-defined group that is not representative of the general public, the study shows that those who have the highest potential for drowsy driving are those under the age of twenty-five, males in general, people suffering from any of a number of sleep disorders or insomnia, people who binge drink and those who don’t wear seat belts. Add to that group everybody who indicates that they sleep less than five hours per night, and we all have plenty of reason to be worried when we’re behind the wheel. According to the study’s lead author Anne Wheaton, an epidemiologist with the CDC, “About four percent, or one in 25 people, reported falling asleep while driving in te month before the survey.”
Out of all of those at risk, the people who slept the less were the ones most likely to feel drowsy when they are driving, and the most at-risk times of day are the early-morning or late evening hours, “when your body is telling you that you should be in bed,” Wheaton says.
In case you think that one in 25 is not that big a deal, take a look around you the next time that you’re stuck in traffic on the highway and count off 25 cars. You’ll quickly realize that it isn’t that small a statistic, and how at risk the other 24 drivers on the road are as a result. It is estimated that as many as 7,500 fatal accidents in the United States are a direct result of drowsy driving, though the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that the majority of those are single car accidents.
The growing concerns about drowsy driving have been elevated by increasing numbers of news reports about tragic and senseless accidents caused by drivers who were not well-rested. The truck accident that injured comedian and actor Tracey Morgan and killed his writing partner is only the most recent highly-publicized incident, and can be added to a long list including the Long Island Railroad accident, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear accidents. Mishaps do not only happen when drivers fall asleep. Sleep deprivation and drowsiness can result in clouded vision, slowed reflexes and poor judgment, as well as higher levels of aggressiveness and moodiness that also can contribute to accidents.
When asked whether drowsy driving is a new phenomenon or whether it is simply being reported more efficiently, Wheaton says, “We do know that people are getting less sleep than they used to. You’ve got people who have really long commutes. And we think that the prevalence of sleep apnea is also increasing, because it tends to go along with obesity and we know that that’s increasing. So it’s definitely not going down.”