Federal stats underestimate scope of drowsy driving danger, study says

The findings of a recent study suggest federal estimates fall substantially short in indicating the scope of the drowsy driving problem.

Drowsy driving is the potentially hazardous combination of getting behind the wheel while overly tired or fatigued. Drowsiness may impair people's attentiveness, decision-making and reaction time, which may affect their ability to respond appropriately to avoid auto accidents and the serious injuries they may cause. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, only 2.2 percent of fatal accidents in 2015 involved drowsy driving. Though, based on the findings of a study recently conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the scope of the problem may be much larger than the federal estimates suggest.

Analyzing the incidence of drowsy driving accidents

In an effort to gain a clearer picture of driver drowsiness just before the occurrence of collisions, a team of researchers analyzed data obtained through a naturalistic driving study. Over a period of a several months between October of 2010 and December of 2013, the study's participants were monitored using equipment, including cameras, while operating their personal vehicles. Employing the PERCLOS measure, the researchers coded and examined a total of 701 qualifying accidents.

Used to predict lapses in attention and drowsiness, the PERCLOS method measures the percent of time over a specified interval that people's eyes are unopened. If a driver's eyes were closed in at least 12 percent of the frames during the three-minutes or one-minute before an accident, he or she was classified as drowsy.

Drivers are drowsy more often than is recorded

Based on the study's findings, drowsiness-involved collisions are significantly more common than the federal estimates suggest. The researchers noted driver drowsiness in 8.8 percent to 9.5 percent of all collisions, minor to severe. Of the accidents analyzed by the researchers that were severe enough to warrant reporting to the authorities, between 10.6 percent and 10.8 percent involved drowsy drivers. This difference may be, at least in part, due to their being no testing methods, such as a breathalyzer, to assess driver drowsiness. Further, after being involved in a collision, motorists may appear alert despite having been previously fatigued, and are often unwilling to divulge such information to law enforcement.

Seeking legal guidance

Due to drowsy driving accidents in California, people may suffer serious injuries that require extensive medical treatment and force them to take extended time off work to recover. In addition to causing physical pain and suffering, these injuries often result in undue medical bills, lost income and other such losses. Depending on the situation, however, drowsy drivers may be held liable for such damages. Therefore, those who have been injured in auto wrecks may benefit from consulting with a lawyer to determine their rights and options for pursuing compensation.