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Study: drowsy driving accidents higher than official numbers

Written by Ankin Law Office

When motorists decide to get into their cars and travel the roads of Illinois, they place a significant amount of trust in other drivers that they pass. This trust includes abiding by simple traffic laws, but it also extends to more potentially serious and dangerous activities, such as speeding, driving recklessly, and disobeying traffic signals. Many motorists do everything they can to keep these laws in order to remain safe and ensure that they do not cause others harm. However, a Chicago car accident lawyer understands that some drivers may be unaware of the significant dangers that come with drowsy driving and thus fail to stay off the roads when sleepy. Federal, state and local governments have done very well in creating awareness campaigns against drunk driving and increasing seat belt use, but the lack of focus on driving while drowsy may be contributing to the problem. A new study indicates the true numbers on drowsy driving may be much higher than those officially backed by the federal government.

Examining the problem

The study, performed by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, examined the prevalence of drowsy driving in the years 2009-2013. This study updates a previous study in which researchers at AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that from 1999-2008, 17 percent of fatal crashes were related to drowsy driving.

In performing the current study, researchers reviewed a representative sample of 21,292 collisions. These collisions had to result in at least one vehicle being towed from the scene of the accident. Trained investigators assessed drivers for their level of drowsiness through the use of interviews with the drivers or other occupants of the vehicle and by reviewing police reports. In determining drowsiness, researchers used the following codes:

  • Attentive
  • Looked but did not see
  • Distracted
  • Sleepy or asleep

When they were unable to ascertain the level of drowsiness in some drivers, researchers used the statistically approved method of multiple imputation to estimate the proportion of drivers who were drowsy. Unknown reports were estimated to have a 3.5 percent incidence of drowsy driving, which was consistent will all other data.

Study results

Of the 25,528 drivers reviewed in the study, 35 percent were determined to be attentive immediately prior to their accident, 5 percent looked but failed to see, 8 percent were distracted, and 2 percent were found to be drowsy. Researchers were unable to determine the attentiveness of a majority of drivers just prior to their accidents; 51 percent were coded as unknown. When cases in which drowsiness was known and those which were estimated were combined, researchers found that as many as 6 percent of drivers involved in damaging collisions are drowsy.

Researchers went a step further and determined the relationship between crash severity and drowsy driving. They found that drowsy motorists cause 7 percent of crashes that require a person to undergo treatment for their injuries, 13 percent of crash-related hospitalizations and 21 percent of all fatal crashes. When researchers conservatively applied these estimates to nationwide crashes, they found that 6,400 fatal crashes are connected to drowsy motorists every year. These figures are as much as 10 times higher than those reported by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

As dangerous as drunk driving

USA Today reports that a study found in the Accident Analysis and Prevention Journal shows that some instances of driving while drowsy can be as bad as having a blood alcohol content level of 0.08. Researchers discovered that drivers who are awake for 21 hours or more exhibit the same symptoms of intoxication, such as decreased reaction times, impaired eyesight, and an impaired ability to maintain proper speeds.

New light shed on an old problem

The news has begun to focus on the damage that drowsy drivers can cause due to the horrific crash that seriously injured prominent actor and comedian Tracy Morgan and killed his friend and fellow comedian James McNair. The Washington Post reports that the pair and some of their friends were traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike when their limo was rear ended by a large tractor-trailer. The rig’s driver had allegedly been working for nearly 24 hours straight when the accident occurred. Mr. Morgan suffered broken ribs, a broken leg, and a traumatic brain injury in the crash. A lawsuit is currently pending against the driver and truck owner.

Other tragedies

These accidents occur every day to individuals in Illinois and all over the nation. An accident recently claimed the lives of a man and woman and injured several others in Pennsylvania. According to NBC, a drowsy truck driver failed to correct his rig in time, which had moved into the path of oncoming traffic. His failure to stay awake caused him to collide with 9 other vehicles. The man was charged with homicide, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and speeding.

Drowsy driving in Illinois

A Chicago car accident lawyer sees these accidents on a regular basis. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, in 2013, 892 people died in car accidents. If the AAA study is correct, as many as 188 people died because drivers failed to take themselves off the road when they were drowsy. These deaths were completely preventable, and hundreds more may die in Illinois in the coming years if nothing is done to remedy the situation.

Illinois drivers who have been injured in a motor vehicle accident because drowsy individuals got behind the wheel can find the help they need by turning to a Chicago car accident lawyer. These attorneys can help accident victims receive the compensation they need in order to heal, both physically and financially, and carry on with their lives.