Drowsy driving dangers overlooked, study finds

In recent years, the media and lawmakers have been putting a lot of focus on distracted driving. While it is indisputable that texting while driving is a safety threat, a new study indicates that there is a separate danger that is a commonly overlooked factor in car accidents-driving while fatigued.

The study, carried out by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, was groundbreaking because it was "naturalistic," meaning that behavior was observed as it takes place without interference from the researchers. In this case, data was collected from 100 drivers who commute in the Washington, D.C. area.

To collect data, researchers equipped 100 cars with video cameras, radar units, lane-tracking software and accelerometers. The data was collected in real time as the driver drove. As family members or friends would occasionally drive the equipped vehicle, the study also included data from 132 drivers who were not part of the study.

Once the data had been collected during 2003 to 2004, researchers viewed more than 110,000 events and confirmed that during the course of the study, the drivers were involved in:

  • 82 crashes
  • 761 near crashes
  • 8,295 driver incidents caused by external forces (e.g. slamming on brakes because of slow traffic)
  • 1,423 non-conflict instances (e.g. running a stop sign with no other traffic present)

Additionally, researchers viewed 20,000 random events to look for instances of driver fatigue to estimate the number of times that drivers were fatigued, but were not in an accident or near-accident.

What the study found

According to the findings of the study, fatigue was the cause of 20 percent of the car accidents. Researchers found that this result was surprising, given that previous estimates based on surveys, test tracks and driving simulator studies had said that it was a factor in only two or three percent. Another surprising finding was that fatigue was more common during the daylight hours than at night.

Among the study's participants, researchers found that drivers between 18 and 20 years old account for more fatigue-related crashes than any other age group. The study confirmed that although drowsy driving is problematic among older age groups, they are able to cope with it better, due to their driving and life experiences. Younger drivers, on the other hand, tend to stay up late and get up early for school and other functions. This type of lifestyle can lead to drowsiness during the daytime.

Applying the study results to the general population, researchers estimate that driving while fatigue makes it four times more likely that a car accident will occur. Overall, researchers hypothesize that drowsy driving is responsible for about 12 percent of car accidents.

Consult an attorney

Driving while fatigued is a dangerous activity and puts others at an unnecessary risk of harm. As a result, drowsy drivers who injure others can be held civilly liable under the law. If you or a loved one has been injured by a drowsy driver, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn about your right to compensation.