Drowsy driving is known to be a problem. Official federal crash statistics estimate that about 2.5 percent of all fatal car accidents involve a drowsy driver. But those estimates are not considered very accurate, as determining if a driver was sleepy before a crash is difficult.
In fatal crashes, the driver cannot answer any questions concerning his or her condition prior to the crash, and for drivers who survive a motor vehicle accident, they may not realize they were drowsy or may be to reticent to admit to a police officer that they fell asleep at the wheel.
There is no objective test, unlike a blood alcohol test that can provide factual evidence as to a driver’s condition. Additionally, the forms that police fill out when completing an accident investigation may not contain questions that allow researchers to determine if drowsiness was an impairment that contributed to the crash.
To determine more accurately the scope of the problem, the AAA Foundation commissioned a study to estimate with greater precision the number of drowsy drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents.
Their findings suggest that 21 percent of all fatal car accidents involved a drowsy driver, and that equates to approximately 6,400 deaths every year. This significantly greater than the 5,000 deaths over a 5-year period that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had calculated.
Their broader findings also suggest that there are approximately 328,000 motor vehicle crashes that involve a driver impaired by drowsiness, and that about 109,000 result in injuries or death of a motorist.
Drivers typically underestimate the risk drowsy driving poses and overestimate their ability to cope.
AAA.com, “Prevalence of Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Drowsy Drivers, United States, 2009 – 2013,” November 2014