Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Real Cost We All Pay For Sleep-Deprivation

From Ash:

There's one aspect of sleep deprivation for adults that I think is so important, that I really think that if this blog post could be forwarded around enough, it could help save lives.

A study for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that, between 1999 and 2003, drivers falling asleep at the wheel were responsible for an estimated 1.35 million car accidents.

Sleepy drivers are just as impaired in reaction times and judgment as drunk drivers – to the point that the experts can actually give you equivalent blood alcohol measurements depending on how much sleep deprivation you've had.

But that's just a "drowsy driver."

A driver who actually falls asleep is even more dangerous than the drunk driver. Because if she's asleep, she's never going to hit the brakes, turn the wheel, or take any evasive action. The car just keeps going forward until it runs into something. So a fall-asleep crash is almost always serious and rarely just a fender-bender. Statistically, "fall-asleep accidents" are actually much more deadly than other types of crashes.

As we wrote in an earlier post, young adults, who are the most sleep-deprived, are disproportionately responsible for sleep-related car accidents: young adults are involved in 55% of the 100,000 fall-asleep crashes annually, even though they aren't even close to being half of the driving population.

Now, if you just did the math and realized that the national studies' numbers aren't consistent, that's because the 100,000 accident rate is based on police reports. But the police determine that sleep was the culprit only when they've ruled out every other reason for the crash to have occurred. So, for example, they rule out weather, alcohol, mechanical failure, etc. until there's no other possible explanation than the driver fell asleep. Thus it's a low estimate.

The 200,000+ accident annual figure comes from a nationally representative survey that asked people about their driving habits and sleep-related crashes. Not surprisingly, drivers were more willing to confess to fall-asleep crashes to the researchers than they were willing to admit to the police.

That's the kind of question that usually has an artificially low response though – because people don't like to admit that they are to blame for an accident. So that too, is a low estimate.

So how big a problem is this, really?

A couple of the sleep experts privately told me that if the real figures were known, we'd discover that more young people die in fall-asleep crashes than drunk-driving accidents.



Anonymous Amanda said...

I had a lot of near-misses driving when I was the parent of an infant and very sleep-deprived. Not only was I scared I might hurt myself or others, I became more anxious about driving even when well-rested, because I was suddenly aware that plenty other drivers on the road were new parents as well.

4:03 PM  
Blogger sleepfoundation said...


I wanted to let you know that the National Sleep Foundation has launched a new site where you can share or create a memorial for a loved one lost to a drowsy driving crash. The site accepts stories and tributes from anyone whose life has been impacted by drowsy driving. It is a very moving and emotional site; you can read first-hand how a drowsy driving crash can happen to anyone at any time.

To share your memorial or story, please visit The site also offers lots of grief related services and resources too.

Also, if you want to learn more about how to prevent drowsy driving, visit -- there is a wealth of valuable information on the site.

Thank you.

National Sleep Foundation

7:15 AM  

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