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Study seeks to identify who is the most likely to drive drowsy

When it comes to identifying the risky driving behaviors that most frequently result in fatal car accidents, most of us would probably list drunk driving and distracted driving. While this is certainly accurate, it actually overlooks an equally dangerous driving behavior that many people unknowingly engage in almost every day: drowsy driving.

If you have a hard time believing this, consider that federal statistics have shown that anywhere from 15 to 33 percent of all fatal car crashes here in the U.S. can be attributed to sleep-deprived drivers getting behind the wheel.

Interestingly, while experts have long been familiar with the problem posed by drowsy driving, they have undertaken surprisingly little research designed to uncover some of the reasons underlying this phenomenon, including who is perhaps the most likely to be involved in these types of motor vehicle accidents.

As it turns out, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine recently published a study in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention that provides some long-awaited answers to this very important question.

Moving beyond previous laboratory research, which examined the impact that drowsiness can have on driving abilities, the researchers sought to identify both the sleep patterns and profiles most likely to put other drivers at risk of a fatal accident.

In order to accomplish this, the researchers examined data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is essentially a random phone survey of adults throughout the U.S. that is designed to monitor health-related behaviors and identify risk factors.

After examining the data, the researchers found the following:

  • Those people who reported sleeping an average of six hours or less (i.e., short sleepers) were roughly twice as likely to report drowsy driving over the last 30 days than those people who reported sleeping at least seven hours
  • Those people who reported sleeping an average of five hours or less (i.e., very short sleepers) were almost four times as likely to report drowsy driving over the last 30 days than those people who reported sleeping at least seven hours
  • Both short sleepers and very short sleepers who reported receiving sufficient sleep were three times more likely to report drowsy driving over the last 30 days

It therefore appears as if those drivers who average anywhere from five to six hours of sleep per night are more likely to practice drowsy driving, and therefore cause a higher percentage of fatal car accidents linked to this dangerous practice.

Here's hoping that safety experts and government officials use this information to educate the public about the dangers of drowsy driving, much like they have about drunk driving and, more recently, distracted driving.

Those who have been injured in car accidents caused by negligent drivers here in New Jersey should understand that they can seek the justice they deserve and that they should strongly consider speaking with an experienced attorney.

Source: Claims Journal, "Short sleepers most likely to be drowsy drivers," October 2, 2013

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