Study: Sleep deprivation greatly increases crash risk for drivers

Based on the findings of a recent AAA study, getting less than four hours of sleep in a 24-hour period may significantly increase drivers’ crash risk.

Factors such as speed or intoxication are often what come to mind when people think about the types of negligent or reckless behaviors that often contribute to motor vehicle accidents. Often overlooked, however, is the role that not getting adequate sleep may have in causing potentially serious or fatal car collisions. A recent study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that acute sleep deprivation may significantly impacts drivers' crash risk.

Examining the relationship between recent sleep and crash risk

To better understand the link between drivers' recent sleep and their risk of being involved in a car wreck, AAA researchers conducted a case-control study. Analyzing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, the researchers examined the involved motorists' total sleep in the 24 hours preceding accidents and their contributions to the collisions. Accounting for factors including driver age, sex, license status, changes to sleep schedules, trip length and time of day, they performed logistic regression to estimate odds ratios for drivers' crash risk. They researchers also performed a parallel analysis using drivers' usual daily amount of sleep.

Effects of sleep deprivation on drivers

Sleep deprivation may cause drowsiness and have a range of other effects on people that may affect their ability to safely operate motor vehicles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that drowsiness may affect drivers' attentiveness and decision-making. Further, it may slow their reaction time, and as a result they may not brake, steer or otherwise maneuver their automobiles in time to avoid a serious collision.

Lack of recent sleep contributes to accident risk

Based on their estimates, the researchers determined that sleep deprivation may play a substantial role in causing auto accidents, which may result in serious injuries or death. They estimated drivers who reported having slept less than four hours in the 24 hours prior to their collisions were 11.5 times more likely to have contributed to the wreck than those drivers who got at least seven hours of sleep in the past day. While getting up to an hour less than their usual amount of sleep did not significantly affect drivers' contribution to crashes, getting between one and two hours less than their normal sleep increased their odds of having a hand in causing a wreck by 30 percent.

Working with an attorney

When Californians are involved in motor vehicle accidents, they may suffer injuries that warrant extensive medical treatment and time away from work to recover. This may result in undue expenses, such as medical bills, and lost income. Depending on the circumstances, however, the at-fault motorists may be held liable. Thus, those who have experienced injuries as a result of auto accidents may benefit from consulting with a lawyer. An attorney may explain their rights and options, and help them determine if a factor such as sleep deprivation may have contributed to their collisions and the resulting injuries.