The effects of sleep deprivation are an issue that is growing in prominence as more research is being done on the impact of shortening what should be a good night’s rest. One of those consequences is the effects it can have on road safety, a factor that researchers have struggled in finding a provable link to a lack of sleep and how it impacts the operation of a motor vehicle.
Lack of sleep can result in hazardous road conditions
Recently, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study that provided troubling data revealing sleep deprivation prior to getting behind the wheel is a growing problem. The belief is that far too many drivers are out on the road impaired not by alcohol or illegal substances but by their own lack of sleep that slows reactions and responses to other vehicles on the road.
The objective of the study was to quantify the link between a driver’s recent sleep patterns and risks of finding themselves in accidents. Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, they were able to locate a representative sample of crashes reported by the police.
Independent investigators conducted their studies separate from law enforcement’s investigations. The multi-disciplinary team placed on total sleep during the previous 24 hours, specifically asking drivers about their sleep schedules.
After securing a sample of drivers and sleep patterns, important and troubling findings emerged. Motor vehicle operators who slept less than seven hours in the past 24 hours and those who slept one or more hours less than usual are more likely to have an accident.
Further deprivation revealed that sleeping six to seven hours increased crash rates by 1.3 times while less than four hours increased the rate of accidents by 11.5 times. Drivers whose usual sleep patterns are four to five hours per day had 5.4 times the average crash rate.
The study had limitations that included:
- Self-reported sleep data
- Limited sample size
- No data on drug or alcohol use
- No accidents that occurred between midnight and 6 AM
Even without that data, accidents caused by sleep deprivation are likely underreported, presenting deadly dangers to well-rested drivers who must share the road with those driving who are impaired in a different yet equally dangerous way.