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Jan/Feb 2014 Issue

More than one in four drivers reports struggling to stay awake

More than one in four motorists (28 percent) reported being so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open while driving in the past month, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, putting themselves and others at risk on the road.

The drivers most likely to report driving dangerously drowsy at 33 percent were motorists age 19 to 24. Meanwhile, the oldest drivers (75 and older) and the youngest (16–18) were the least likely to report having done so in the previous month at 22 percent each.

“Drowsy driving remains a significant threat to the motoring public, with many drivers underestimating the problem of driving while extremely tired, and overestimating their ability to deal with it,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Driving while fatigued is dangerous because it slows reaction time, impairs vision, and causes lapses in judgment, similar to driving drunk.”

The study found that 95 percent of drivers believe it is somewhat or completely unacceptable to drive when they are so tired it is difficult to keep their eyes open. More than eight in ten (83 percent) believe that drowsy drivers pose a somewhat or very serious threat to their personal safety.

An estimated 17 percent of fatal crashes, 13 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and 7 percent of all crashes requiring a tow involve a drowsy driver, according to a 2010 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

AAA urges all motorists to stop driving and find a safe place to pull over if feeling drowsy. To remain alert behind the wheel, AAA suggests:

  • Get plenty of sleep (at least seven hours), especially the night before a long drive
  • Drive at times when you are normally awake
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving
  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or impairment
  • Consult a specialist if you have trouble getting enough rest or are chronically fatigued.

Warning signs for drowsy drivers

People can’t reliably predict when they are going to fall asleep, and a very fatigued driver can fall asleep for several seconds without even realizing it. To protect yourself and others on the road, stay alert for these warning signs:

  • The inability to recall the last few miles traveled
  • Having disconnected or wandering thoughts
  • Having difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open
  • Feeling as though your head is very heavy
  • Drifting out of your driving lane
  • Accidentally tailgating other cars
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Missing traffic signs
An estimated 17 percent of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver, according to AAA.


Smart teen driving starts with effective parent coaches

Parents who ensure that teens get ample practice in a wide variety of situations and transfer their safe driving wisdom to their novice drivers are more likely to help their teens develop the necessary skills to be safer drivers, according to a series of research studies from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In step with AAA’s advice that parents should spend more time with their teen drivers so they can build as much experience as possible before driving solo, these new findings provide evidence as to how parents can most effectively work with their teens.

While current tools on the market focus on teen education, AAA used this insight in the development of a new drivers education tool for parents–AAA’s StartSmart Online Parent Session. Grounded in principles of adult learning, the program helps parents be more effective driving coaches as their teens learn to drive.

The StartSmart Online Parent Session examines useful parenting practices for supervising and managing a teen driver. Through interactive elements and demonstrations, the two-hour program covers everything a parent needs to know, including a discussion about the challenges they will most likely experience during supervised driving practice.

The program costs $9.95 and is available at Also on the site are parent-teen driving agreements, licensing information, and a free Web-based parent support e-newsletter program created in partnership with the National Institutes of Health.


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