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Jan/Feb 2011 Issue

AAA finds that two out of five drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel

Two out of every five drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel at some point, with one in 10 saying they’ve done so in the past year, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study.

While 85 percent of drivers surveyed felt it was “completely unacceptable” for someone to drive if they are so tired they are having trouble keeping their eyes open, more than a quarter of those surveyed admitted they did just that in the previous month. Through the study, AAA hopes to help all drivers recognize the seriousness of this dangerous, yet underestimated, practice.

“When you are behind the wheel of a car, being sleepy is very dangerous. Sleepiness decreases awareness, slows reaction time, and impairs judgment, just like drugs or alcohol, contributing to the possibility of a crash,” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “We need to change the culture so that not only will drivers recognize the dangers of driving while drowsy but will stop doing it.”

A new analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash data estimates that about one in six (16 percent) of deadly crashes, one in eight (13 percent) of crashes resulting in occupant hospitalization, and one in 14 (7 percent) of crashes in which a vehicle was towed involve a driver who is drowsy. These percentages are substantially higher than most previous estimates, suggesting that the contribution of drowsy driving to motor vehicle crashes, injuries and deaths has not been fully appreciated.

To avoid drowsiness, AAA suggests that drivers:

  • Get plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before a long trip;
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles;
  • Travel at times when you are normally awake and stay overnight rather than drive straight through;
  • Simply stop driving if you become sleepy.

Suprising facts about sleepy drivers

In addition to finding that falling asleep behind the wheel is more prevalent than previously believed, the study also found other alarming results about when and where drivers slept in the past year.

  • More than half (55 percent) of those drivers who reported falling asleep said that it was on a high-speed divided highway.
  • More than half (59 percent) of those drivers who fell asleep said they had been driving for less than an hour before nodding off.
  • More than one in four drivers (26 percent) who slept at the wheel reported that it had occurred during the day between noon and 5 p.m.
  • Male drivers (52 percent) were much more likely than female drivers (30 percent) to report having ever nodded off.
  • Drivers age 24 and younger were the most likely to report having fallen asleep in the past year.

Get a grip on tire care to drive safely during the winter

Winter driving conditions can be dangerous with rain-slick roads and icy surfaces, so proper tire care is vital to motorists’ safety, AAA cautions.

The amount of traction that exists between the tires and the road surface determines how well your vehicle starts, turns and stops. To help maintain the best traction, make sure your tires are properly inflated. Contrary to popular belief, underinflation does not give tires better traction but makes them vulnerable to damage.

Check your tires’ pressure periodically, especially in the winter because as the temperature outside falls, the pressure inside a tire drops, one or two pounds for every 10-degree drop. The proper tire pressure for your tires is shown on the vehicle’s door edge, door post, glove-box door or fuel door; it’s also in the owner’s manual.

Make sure your tires have sufficient tread and that the tread wear is even. Tires must be replaced when the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch in order to prevent skidding and hyroplaning.

Motorists who drive four-wheel drive vehicles should guard against being overconfident on slick roads. Having four-wheel drive may help you get going better, but it won’t help you stop any better.

For safety tips about winter driving, AAA offers a free pamphlet called “How to Go on Ice and Snow.” For a copy, send a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to AAA, How to Go, 12901 N. Forty Drive, St. Louis, MO 63141. For more winter driving tips, visit the safety section of


An analysis of national crash data found that one in six fatal crashes involves a drowsy driver.

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