AAA: Drowsy driving more widespread and dangerous

WASHINGTON — In a region where rush-hour traffic is already busy before 6 a.m., a new study is highlighting just how often drivers are putting their sleepy heads in the driver’s seat and just how dangerous it is.

It’s happening a lot more often than anyone first believed.

“The study shows that drowsy-driving crashes are eight times higher than federal estimates,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

The new data comes from a study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which spent several months studying some 3,500 drivers.

“The vast majority of fatal automobile crashes in the Washington metro area, as well as across the nation, involve single vehicles where drivers are literally and figuratively running themselves off the road and into ditches and in trees and in embankments. So the culprits have to be either drowsy driving or distracted driving,” Townsend said.

Using in-car cameras, “drowsiness was assessed using a validated measure that is based on the percentage of time that a person’s eyes are closed” in the minutes leading up to a crash, Townsend said.

Up to this point, Townsend said that the best federal estimate was that 1 to 2 percent of crashes involved a drowsy driver, even though three out of every 10 drivers admit to getting behind the wheel even when they’re barely able to keep their eyes open.

The study shows more than 9 percent of all crashes — and nearly 11 percent of serious crashes that leave drivers injured or killed, vehicles heavily damaged and air bags deployed — occurred with a drowsy driver behind the wheel.

“And so what this study shows is that drowsy driving is more widespread, more pernicious, and more dangerous than previously thought,” Townsend said.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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