A Journalist’s Resource report examines the dangers of drowsy driving and details the results of a recent study that shows the role of shift work in auto accidents.
Drowsy driving has caused or contributed to hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle crashes and thousands of deaths in recent years. Estimates of drowsy driving-related accidents, injuries and deaths vary, however. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sleep-deprived and fatigued drivers caused 846 deaths in 2014. The NHTSA reports that, on average, an estimated 83,000 crashes a year were blamed on sleepy drivers between 2005 and 2009.
A report from the Massachusetts Special Commission on Drowsy Driving suggests that the problem is much worse. The widely-publicized 2009 report, “Asleep at the Wheel,” estimates that drowsy driving accounts for 1.2 million accidents, 500,000 injuries and 8,000 deaths a year.
Policymakers have tried to discourage drowsy driving by bringing attention to the issue and, in some cases, making it a crime. In New Jersey, for example, a driver who has been without sleep for more than 24 hours is considered to be driving recklessly and can face criminal penalties. The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks legislation related to drowsy driving in each state. Other organizations also are working to keep fatigued drivers off the road. In May 2016, the Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York City announced a proposal to reduce driver fatigue by placing new limits on the number of consecutive hours a driver can work.