Study: Acute sleep deprivation raises accident risk for drivers

A recent study found that getting less than seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period may significantly raise drivers’ risk of being involved in a car wreck.

When people think of reckless behaviors for drivers, getting behind the wheel while overly tired or fatigued is not often what comes to mind. However, the UCLA Sleep Center reports that drowsiness contributes to at least 100,000 motor vehicle collisions every year. As a result of such crashes, those involved may suffer serious personal injury or death. While there are numerous factors that may contribute to people driving when they are too tired, a recent study found the sleep drivers got in the previous 24 hours may have a significant impact on their chances of getting into an auto accident.

How does fatigue effect drivers?

The danger of falling asleep while behind the wheel is obvious, the vehicle could drift out of control with no one in control of it. However, many underestimate how fatigue or drowsiness may affect their ability to safely control an automobile. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that being sleepy may slow motorists' reaction times, impair their decision-making and make them less attentive. As a result of these and other effects, they may be less able to respond to changes in traffic conditions, hazards and other situations that may arise while on the road.

Studying recent sleep and crash risk

A group of researchers with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a case-control study to examine the relationship between the amount of sleep drivers have gotten in the past 24 hours and their risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. To this end, they analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey for wrecks occurring between July of 2005 and December of 2007. The accidents included resulted in the dispatch of emergency medical services and had at least one vehicle towed from the scene.

Using information provided by the drivers, NMVCCS accident investigators calculated how much sleep they got in the 24 hours preceding their collisions. The researchers employed logistic regression to adjust for certain variables and to estimate odds ratios for the amount of sleep drivers got and their exposure-based accident involvement rates.

Acute sleep loss increases accident risk

Compared to drivers who got adequate rest in the 24-hour period leading up to their motor vehicle collisions, the study's findings showed motorists who got less than seven hours of sleep had an increased risk of being involved in auto accidents. The rate was highest for those who got less than four hours of sleep; the researchers estimate they may have 11.5 times the crash rate of drivers who got at least seven hours of sleep. Motorists who got between four and five, five and six, and six and seven hours of sleep also had greater odds of being involved in a car wreck.

Working with an attorney

When people in Washington, D.C., are involved in fatigue-related auto accidents, they may suffer serious injuries that necessitate extensive medical treatment. For some, this may result in unexpected medical expenses, as well as lost income while they are off work recovering. Depending on the circumstances, however, the at-fault drivers may be held liable for these and other resulting losses. Therefore, those who have been injured as a result of motor vehicle collisions may find it helpful to consult with a legal representative. A lawyer may help them understand their rights and options, and determine if a factor such as drowsiness may have contributed to their crash.