White Paper: Consequences of Drowsy Driving

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that [they] had a hard time keeping[their] eyes open” within the past month.(AAA, 2010) In the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America 2009 poll, more than half of adults (54%) reported they have driven at least once while drowsy in the past year, with almost a third (28%) reporting that they do so at least once per month.

Commercial truck drivers are especially susceptible to drowsy driving. A congressionally mandated study of 80 long-haul truck drivers in the United States and Canada found that drivers averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day. (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 1996) It is no surprise then that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that drowsy driving was probably the cause of more than half of crashes leading to a truck driver’s death. (NTSB, 1990a,b) For each truck driver fatality, another three to four people are killed. (NHTSA, 1994)

Although certain segments of the population are more prone to drowsy driving, such as commercial truck drivers, shift workers, young men, people taking sedating medicines, or those with sleep disorders, drowsy driving is such a prevalent condition that “in many cases it is the average ‘driver next door’ who just happens to be putting in extra hours at work, adjusting to a new baby in the household, staying out late for a party, or trying to make it back home after an out-of-town trip,” noted one group of researchers. (Stutts, et al, 1999) The consensus among drowsy driving experts is that in order to prevent many deadly crashes, it is critical to educate all people about the importance of adequate sleep and the dangers of not driving drowsy, with some experts calling drowsy driving a “silent killer” that needs a major public health and education campaign to counter. (Drobnich, 2005) Fortunately, drowsy driving is both preventable and treatable with certain appropriate measures, which will be discussed in this paper.

Need for sleep and its effects on driving
All people need between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night to feel well rested and function at their fullest. (NHLBI, 2005) The