In today’s fast-paced society, Americans are sacrificing sleep, which too often leads to tragic consequences on the roadways.

A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), Wake Up Call! Understanding Drowsy Driving and What States Can Do, points out that nearly 83.6 million sleep-deprived Americans are driving every day. And it’s taking a toll – an estimated 5,000 lives were lost in drowsy driving-related crashes last year.

Other key facts from the report include:
• On average there are 328,000 drowsy driving crashes annually on U.S. roadways
• 50 per cent of drowsy driving crashes involve drivers age 25 and younger
• 24 hours without sleep is equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 per cent (more than the legal limit of 0.08 per cent)

The extreme danger posed by tired drivers has prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to expand its definition of impaired driving to include not only drunk, drugged and distracted, but also drowsy. In a newly available NHTSA estimate provided to GHSA for this report, the agency revealed the annual societal cost of fatigue-related fatal and injury crashes is $109 billion, not including property damage.

The GHSA report examines the cause and effect of drowsy driving as well as how states and others can best address it. Additionally, it discusses legislative, enforcement, education, and engineering countermeasures being employed as well as in-vehicle technologies that are available today or on the horizon.

While estimates of deaths caused by drowsy drivers range from 2 per cent to 20 per cent of all traffic fatalities, safety officials agree that the extent of the problem is not fully known.

“There are challenges associated with both measuring and combating drowsy driving,” said GHSA executive director Jonathan Adkins, who oversaw the development of the report. “Law enforcement lack protocols and training to help officers recognize drowsy driving at roadside. And if a crash occurs, the drowsy driver may not report the cause due to concerns about monetary and other penalties.”

The report was funded through a grant from State Farm® with guidance from an expert panel.

Chris Mullen, director of technology research at State Farm, said: “Drowsy driving is a serious safety issue on America’s roadways. We encourage drivers to remember the role that rest plays in safe driving, and to prioritize getting enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. As this report highlights, learning to recognize the warning signs of drowsiness can also help us take appropriate action if we become a drowsy driver.”

The report explored the crash characteristics and drivers most at risk.

“Teens and young adults are involved in more than half of all drowsy driving crashes annually,” said Adkins. “People who work nights or long or irregular shifts are also more likely to get behind the wheel when they are too tired to drive, along with the estimated 40 million Americans who suffer from a sleep disorder.”

That, said report author Pam Fischer, merits a change in how we view sleep. “Sleep is a restorative and life-sustaining activity that is just as important as eating right and exercising. When we skimp on sleep, we’re less able to react quickly – a critical element of safe driving. Our mental and physical health also suffers.”