How Many Crashes Each Year Are Caused By Driver Fatigue? 60+ Drowsy Driving Statistics To Wake You Up! (2021-2022)

What is it about the comfort of the car seat that sends us into a stupor?

For babies and small children, it seems like the back seat casts a magic spell of sleep. A warm cab and a reclining seat are an intoxicating combination for nodding off.

But while you’re driving, you need the reflexes of a cat – not the reflexes of a catnap!

Drowsy Driving

If you’re taking charge of the vehicle you need to be alert to the road – but for many of us, a commute home comes after a double shift, or we’re driving to work after a bad night’s sleep. Just propelled by coffee, we may be drifting off and drifting lanes.

Drowsy driving is something every American has experienced. But for all the microsleeps and near misses, we’re still not waking up to the danger of drowsy driving.

So let’s discover the facts about drowsy driving, and see how a driving dream can quickly turn into a nightmare when you’re overtired.

Key Insights of Drowsy Driving:

  • One in 25 drivers admit falling asleep at the wheel in the last 30 days.
  • And more than one in four (27%) report driving while struggling to keep their eyes open.
  • According to the NSC, drowsy driving causes 1,550 fatalities a year.
  • But the National Sleep Foundation estimates there could be as many as 6,400 annual deaths from drowsy driving.
  • Drowsy driving is a factor in 9.5% of crashes – almost one in ten!
  • After 20 hours without sleep, your reaction time is equivalent to that of a drunk driver.

Data At A Glance: Charts And Tables

Eyelids drooping? Check out these handy charts for some drowsy driving data at a glance.

Drowsy Driving By Age

Whilst older drivers are more likely to have fallen asleep at the wheel ever, younger drivers are more likely to have fallen asleep at the wheel recently. Young people have active, late-night social lives and are more likely to be in shift work leading to more opportunities for tired driving.

Drowsy Driving By Gender

Men are considerably more likely than women to be nodding off while driving. But this could be because they’re more likely to be in roles like long-distance trucking which require long hours at the wheel.

NHTSA Data On Driving Fatalities

The NHTSA data to 2018 shows drowsy driving fatalities down from 810 in 2011 to 785 in 2018. However, this could be an undercount as data from the NSC and the National Sleep Foundation suggest a significant increase in fatalities in 2021.

What Is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving has a number of names, but it’s familiar to almost every road user. And whether we call it drowsy driving, “tired driving” or “driver fatigue”, the consequences are the same.

But what is drowsy driving? It’s the act of operating a motor vehicle while in a state of fatigue. Whether that’s after a long shift at work, late-night partying or the cumulative fatigue of caring for small children, it’s something we all need to be careful of.

But it’s not just lifestyle that leads us to drowsy driving. Sleep disorders and medication can also have an impact on our ability to operate a vehicle. Often, drowsy driving creeps up on us – after a few hours behind the wheel, or when we’re asked to concentrate on the road after a relaxing morning. Everyone needs to be vigilant of drowsy driving.

Legal Definition

In terms of legal definitions, only a few states have gone so far to write it into the books. For Arkansas and New Jersey, drowsy driving is defined as operating a vehicle after a period of 24 hours without sleep.

That’s when you fall foul of the law. But for the sake of safety, drowsy driving can happen after a bad night’s sleep or just a long day. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee: here are the drowsy driving statistics to get you out of bed.

Drowsy Driving Statistics 2021-2022

We all need to get home after a long day. But are you turning your commute into a crash risk after a hard day at work? Here are the drowsy driving facts and statistics you need to know.

How Common Is Drowsy Driving?

Ever been cruising down the highway, blinking lights turning blurry as you struggle to keep your attention on the road? Yeah, we’ve all dabbled in drowsy driving. But how common is drowsy driving and who’s falling asleep at the wheel?

  1. 4% (one in 25) of drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel in the past 30 days.
  2. 11% (almost one in 10) admit to having fallen asleep while driving within the past year.
  3. 41% (4 in 10) of drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel in their lifetime.
  4. 25% of American adults suffer from poor sleep.
  5. So unsurprisingly, 27% (almost one in 4 drivers) admit to driving in a state of fatigue, where they can hardly stay awake.
  6. Despite the frequency, 70% of Americans acknowledge that drowsy driving is a serious threat to safety.
  7. And 96% of Americans think drowsy driving is unacceptable.

Drowsy Driving: Accidents, Injuries and Deaths

Driving drowsy is both widespread across the United States and widely acknowledged to be dangerous. But what’s the true cost of drowsy driving? 40 winks could cost 6,400 lives – it’s not worth it for a nap.

  1. Drowsy driving is involved in almost one in ten accidents (9.5%).
  2. The NSC (National Safety Council) estimates that 1,550 fatalities occur each year due to drowsy driving.
  3. But the National Sleep Foundation suggests the number of deaths could be as much as 6,400 when you take sleeping, drowsy driving and fatigue into consideration.
  4. The AAA Foundation found that fatigue was a factor in one in six (16.5%) of fatal accidents. This is far more than in recent years.
  5. In 2008, the number of fatal accidents caused by drowsy driving was 2.8%.
  6. And police report analysis between 1989 and 1993 revealed that drowsy driving caused 3.6% of fatal crashes.
  7. And one in eight crashes that result in hospitalization is due to drowsy driving.
  8. There are 71,000 injuries caused by drowsy driving every year.
  9. Around 100,000 crashes a year are caused by drowsy driving. Wake up, people!
  10. Out of six million crashes a year, that means drowsy driving causes around 1.6% of accidents.
  11. Data from 1989-1993 showed that drowsy driving was responsible for 0.9% of crashes in this time period. Drowsy driving is on the rise.

It should be noted that because the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) counts drowsy driving deaths differently, they estimate there are around 800 fatalities a year and that drowsy driving accounted for 2.4% of fatal crashes in 2018 (the last year for which there’s data).

But whether we’re looking at falling asleep at the wheel or just the impact of fatigue on our driving, it’s clear that drowsy driving is a major danger – and likely underestimated by these accounts.

The Sleepyheads: Who’s Responsible For Driving Drowsy?

I suspect you may have heard of COVID-19, but there’s another global health crisis that you may not have heard so much about. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has also declared that sleep disorders are a public health epidemic.

Drowsy driving is on the rise, but just like COVID-19 not everyone is equally likely to be affected by the crisis of insufficient sleep. Let’s take a look at who’s likely to be driving while tired.

  1. Around two-thirds of drivers who crashed while fatigued are men.
  2. So women account for just one-third of drowsy driving accidents.
  3. Two-thirds of drivers involved in a crash due to drowsy driving are men.
  4. Over half of men (52%) admit to having fallen asleep while driving.
  5. And just under a third of women say the same thing (30%).
  6. 42% of drivers aged 46 – 64 said they had fallen asleep at the wheel ever in their lives, more than any other category.
  7. But older drivers are half as likely to be involved in a fatal accident caused by drowsy driving as younger drivers.
  8. 21 – 29 years olds are twice as likely to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the last week compared to any other age group.

Men – and young men in particular – are highly likely to be affected by drowsy driving. Whilst young men tend to skew towards more risky behavior (see our statistics on texting and drinking while driving), let’s explore some other risk factors before we start criticizing the guys too much. Drowsy driving is often a choice imposed on people because of their lifestyle and socioeconomic condition.

Driving Drowsy Risk Factors

Around half of all men have fallen asleep at the wheel compared to 30% of women, whilst 21 to 29-year-olds are doubly likely to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the last week. What’s up, guys?

But there’s more to drowsy driving than just age and gender. Let’s take a look at the drowsy driving risk factors.

  1. Drowsy driving is more likely at night – 50% of drowsy driving accidents happen between 9 pm and 6 am.
  2. Just 26% of people who have fallen asleep at the wheel did so between 12 pm and 5 pm.
  3. It’s a long drive with nothing to think about: 70% of drowsy drivers had been driving for over one hour.
  4. Drivers are half as likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash when they have a passenger.
  5. Sleeping under six hours a night makes you more likely to fall asleep while driving.
  6. And bad news for the snorers: those who snore are also more likely to suffer from fatigue at the wheel.
  7. Certain groups are more at risk of drowsy driving. These include…
  • Younger drivers with busy, late-night social lives.
  • Shift workers: a double shift or a night shift leaves you more exposed to drowsy driving.
  • Truckers and other commercial drivers: long stints on the road? You’ll be drifting off…

The Warning Signs For Tired Driving

If you’re in need of a catnap, the best place to be isn’t behind the wheel. But recognizing the warning signs can help you get off the road before it’s too late.

  1. If you haven’t slept in 20-24 hours, let your head hit the pillow rather than hitting the road.
  2. If you’re struggling to keep your eyes focussed on the road, you might be too tired to drive.
  3. Repeated yawning is a sure sign you’re getting tired. Don’t ignore it.
  4. If you find yourself switching off, you’re overtired. Keep an eye on your short term memory and if you can’t remember the last few miles, take a break.
  5. If you find yourself drifting between lanes or missing exits, you might even be falling into micro-sleep. Pull over when you can!

The Consequences Of Driving Tired

The GHSA (Governors Highway Safety Association) estimates that drowsy driving costs us $109 billion every year. Not to mention 100,000 crashes and up to 6,400 fatalities, it’s clear we can’t afford to keep driving while drowsy.

When you’re tired, your brain begins to enter a state of cognitive impairment similar to being drunk. In fact, when you have gone 20 hours without sleep, you have similar reaction times to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 – the legal limit in the United States.

  1. When you’re tired, you have a slowed reaction time. Going 20 hours without sleep is equivalent to being a drunk driver.
  2. Your short term memory is impacted. That makes it difficult to make decisions about where you’re turning off or whether it’s safe to overtake a car in front.
  3. Tiredness impacts your judgment too – you make worse decisions when you’re tired. On the road, a bad choice can cost you your life.
  4. A lack of sleep can also impact your coordination. Everything from signaling to changing gear could be affected, or take your attention off the road.

Waking Up On The Wrong Side Of The Law

Drowsy driving costs society over a hundred billion every year and puts us all at risk on the road. Yet it’s also endemic due to the long hours we’re working as a nation.

So is drowsy driving illegal? Only two states, Arkansas and New Jersey, have laws explicitly outlawing drowsy driving. But drowsy driving could lead you to fall foul of other laws, including reckless driving and vehicular homicide. And because drowsy driving might be mistaken for drunk driving, you could end up being charged with a DUI.

Honestly, officer, I’m just sleepy!

  1. In Arkansas, it’s illegal to while knowingly fatigued or actually asleep. The state of fatigue has a legal definition of a period of 24 hours without sleep.
  2. In New Jersey, a similar law exists. It’s illegal to drive if you’ve gone more than a full 24 hours without sleep.
  3. But drowsy driving can be easily mistaken for drunk driving. You could be charged with a DUI.
  4. And you could be legally responsible for accidents, injuries or death caused by drowsy driving.
  5. You may not legally be allowed to carry a license if you suffer from certain sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

Dreaming Big: How Drowsy Driving Costs Your Car Insurance

Outside of New Jersey and Arkansas, you won’t be charged with any law that mentions drowsy driving – so your insurers are unlikely to find out that fatigue was a factor. However, drowsy driving can lead to DUIs and charges of reckless driving which will hit your premiums hard.

  1. A drowsy driving-related charge costs men an average of $376 on their driving insurance.
  2. That’s a change of 22% on your insurance premium.
  3. For women, the average increase is $339.
  4. That’s 20% up on the average premium.

Okay, we all want to save a few dollars. But drowsy driving is going to hit more than just your wallet. From writing off your vehicle to injuring or even causing death, falling asleep at the wheel isn’t worth the risk.

How Can We Prevent Drowsy Driving?

Across America, men and women are dog-tired. But we’ve got to get to work, or pick up groceries or the kids from school – we’re never going to stop hitting the road. So stop hitting snooze – it’s time to wake up and learn how to prevent drowsy driving.

Update Your Sleep Hygiene

From phone addictions to late-night cups of coffee, we could all do better when it comes to sleep hygiene. Fixing healthy habits around sleep is hard in a world full of modern distractions, but getting enough quality sleep keeps you and your passengers safe. Aim for seven or more hours a night, and if you’ve got a long drive ahead prioritize sleep the night before.

Embrace The Power Nap

Find yourself nodding off at the wheel? How about you pull over before you conk out. Just a 10-minute power nap provides instant improvement in your cognitive function – that could be enough focus to get you home.

Find A Passenger

The risk of an accident caused by drowsy driving is halved when you have a passenger. If you’re worried that tiredness might impact your drive, recruit a friend to come with you. Carpooling your commute is a great way to save on gas money, and your colleagues can help keep your focus on the road at the end of a long day.

Open A Window

For an instant pick-me-up, wind down the window. The warm cab is the ultimate sleep-inducing environment, but with the wind in your hair and a cool breeze on your cheeks, you’ll find yourself alert to the duties of driving.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead for your drives lets you avoid the times at which you know tiredness is setting in. For example, if you’ve got a long distance to cover, an early start might be better than driving late into the night.

Check Your Medications

It goes without saying that you should avoid alcohol before you drive – but do you know the side effects of the medication you’re taking? You’ll see ‘MAY CAUSE DROWSINESS’ on the label of many a bottle of medication – don’t gamble your life on a side effect.

Final Thoughts

There’s a sleep disorder epidemic in America and one in four of us are suffering from inadequate sleep. Does that sound like you?

Long hours and long commutes are leaving us chronically tired. And that hits us while we’re behind the wheel. After 20 hours without sleep, the impact on our reaction times makes us effectively drunk at the wheel.

And whilst you may not be pulling all-nighters on a regular basis, if you’re sleeping under six hours a night, staring at a screen all day or acting as a caregiver there’s a strong chance you’re driving tired.

Whilst Jack Handy quipped “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers,” it’s clear that drowsy driving is no joke.

Maybe it’s time to get some sleep. Good night!


Sources:

  • Drowsy Driving. Retrieved from NHTSA
  • The Prevalence and Impact of Drowsy Driving. Retrieved from AAA Foundation
  • Drivers are Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel. Retrieved from NSC
  • What Lack of Sleep Does to Your Mind. Retrieved from WebMD
  • Drowsy Driving v. DUI Charges: Facts, Prevention and Criminal Defense. Retrieved from Arizona Criminal Defense Lawyer

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Robert Muñoz

I’m Robert, a US-based auto electrician, auto mechanic, trained engineer and fanatic about all things motor vehicle. After studying engineering in college I returned to my original passion - car mechanics - and I ran a garage for a number of years serving my local community. Through my garage, I got involved in numerous road safety campaigns in my local area until eventually, I decided to share what I've learned with the world. Know more about me... You can follow me on LinkedIn.

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