Study delves into impact of sleep deprivation on car accident risk

Drowsy driving increases the risk of car accidents. The actual amount of the increase may be surprising.

A driver that operates a vehicle while battling sleep deprivation is at an increased risk of a car accident compared to his or her well-rested peers. This not a new concept. Public safety campaigns throughout the country have aimed to educate the public on the risks that come with drowsy driving - often noting the dangers are akin to drunk driving.

Although we understand the basic risk is present, we have yet to gather solid data to explain the extent of the risk. A recent study provides such data.

Accident risk and drowsy drivers: What does the data tell us?

A recent study published by the American Automobile Association (AAA) attempts to quantify the impact of sleep deprivation on a driver's risk of involvement in a car accident. Researchers with the study continuously monitored over 3,500 drivers for several months. Researchers used collection equipment such as in-vehicle cameras to gather data and assess a driver's level of drowsiness. Driver's with eyelids 80 percent closed or covering the pupil 12 percent or more were deemed drowsy.

Researchers provided results on 701 car accidents. Researchers analyzed 589 of these crashes with drowsiness measurements for three minutes prior to the accident. Researchers analyzed the remaining 112 crashes with data gathered from one minute prior to the accident. Almost one-third of reviewed crashes were moderate or severe. Moderate and severe accidents included roll-overs, significant property damage or a substantial change in speed that was associated with the crash.

The most important lesson from this study? Previous reports on the impact of drowsiness on car accident risk were grossly underestimated. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported driver drowsiness contributed to 1.4 to 2.4 percent of accidents. This study finds drowsiness actually accounts for 8.8 to 10.8 percent of all car accidents.

Application of findings: What does this mean for victims of drowsy driving accidents?

Researchers with the study ultimately call for the availability of sources aside from police reports to establish the true cause of car accidents. In the future, this include the availability of data like that gathered in the study above. If available, victims could use such data to help determine the cause of the accident.

It is very likely many hurdles will be present before victims could gather such data to support a car accident claim. Although victims cannot currently use this type of evidence to build their claim, other evidence can support a claim and hold a negligent driver accountable for the damage caused by a car accident. An attorney experienced in protecting the rights of victims after motor vehicle accidents can discuss these options.