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Study links drowsy driving to nearly 30,000 deaths over 5 years

Photo: Reza Estakhrian/gettyimages

Drowsy drivers were involved in 18% of all fatal crashes over a recent five-year period, leading to nearly 30,000 deaths, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates.

Researchers looked at 2017-2021 data on in-depth crash investigations from the Crash Investigation Sampling System and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The sample encompassed more than 229,000 drivers of passenger vehicles involved in over 163,000 unique crashes.

“The percentage of fatal crashes involving drowsy driving remained approximately constant over the study period,” the researchers write. “However, the annual number of fatal drowsy driving crashes increased significantly over the study period due to a large increase in total annual fatal crashes.”

An estimated 6,726 deaths resulted from drowsy driving in 2021 – up from 5,773 in 2017.

Other findings:

  • Men ages 21-34 made up the largest number of drowsy drivers in the crashes.
  • Most of the crashes occurred on rural or urban arterial roads, between 11 p.m. and 2:59 a.m., and involved a vehicle driving off the road.
  • The drivers who crashed between 3 and 6:59 a.m. were most likely to be drowsy.

The researchers say more effective countermeasures are needed to combat drowsy driving and prevent drowsy driving crashes. Future research, they add, could focus on the effectiveness of potential countermeasures.

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