Drowsy driving: car insurance industry recognizes an epidemic


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UPDATED: 2020-12-08T16:42:43.589Z
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A woman asleep at the wheel of a car.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that one out of every three adults do not get sufficient sleep; and one of the premier medical journals in the country, Pediatrics, suggests that one of the most affected sleep-deprived groups is teenagers. CDC has gone so far as to call the lack of sleep a public health crisis.

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Statistics show the problem is significant

Car insurance companies are well aware of this issue. While distracted driving gets the headlines, drowsy driving is a serious concern. More than one-third of drivers -- 37 percent -- report having fallen asleep at the wheel, according to a study done by AAA. Here are some more eye-opening statistics from the Insurance Information Institute:

  • It estimates that 21 percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver;
  • Although crashes caused by fatigue can happen at any time of day, most drowsy-driving accidents happen during two distinct time windows: between midnight and 6 a.m., and during the late afternoon hours;
  • Drivers who sleep for less than five hours a day have an elevated crash risk;
  • Even short-term sleep deprivation increases risk; as little as one hour less than a driver's usual amount of sleep can result in drowsy driving;
  • Excluding property damage, one study found that the annual societal cost of drowsy driving accidents is around $109 billion -- this includes factors such as insurance, medical costs, and lost productivity;
  • Many drowsy driving accidents are single-vehicle accidents, most often with a single driver; and
  • Researchers have linked the beginning of daylight savings time to an increased risk of vehicle accidents.

Two states -- New Jersey and Arkansas -- have laws on the books that penalize drowsy drivers who cause accidents that either injure or kill another person. These two states are outliers, however, as most states focus efforts on increasing awareness of the risks associated with fatigued driving.

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As dangerous as drinking and driving

A report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association attempts to quantify how extensive the problem is, and what states can do about it. The report notes that risky driving behaviors associated with drowsy driving are similar to those associated with alcohol consumption, and include slower reaction times, less scanning of the road, and not paying attention. In fact, a driver who has gone without sleep for 21 hours or more has responses similar to someone with a .08 blood alcohol content level, which is the threshold for drunk driving.

The solution to combat drowsy driving

For a problem so pervasive, the solution is almost frustratingly simple: drivers need to make sure they get enough sleep. For teens, this can mean anywhere from eight to ten hours of sleep a night. Adults typically need seven to nine hours of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation has a list of tips to improve sleep quality.

Any driver has the potential to become sleepy at the wheel. If you frequently find yourself drowsy during the day, examine your sleep habits and make getting sufficient rest a priority.

Find the best car insurance companies in your area by checking out Clearsurance's car insurance rankings page.

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