By on November 8, 2010

Now, you can’t draw too many conclusions from a sample size of 2,000 people, but then when you see the results of a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, you won’t want to even think about what your fellow Americans are doing in their cars. The scariest nuglet [via NYT]:

The report found that 41 percent of respondents admitted to falling asleep or nodding off while driving at some point in their lives. One in 10 acknowledged doing so in the past year. More than a quarter (27 percent) of those surveyed admitted that in the previous month they drove despite being so tired that they had difficulty keeping their eyes open.

OK, so we’ve all been tired at the end of a long drive. We’ve all felt that extreme stress of keeping… the… freaking… eyes… open.. for just a few… more.. miles. We’ve all cranked the stereo, downed a Red Bull, opened a window or sang at the top of our lungs in order to stay awake and get where we’re going… and it’s not surprising that 27 percent reached that stage in the last month. But 41 percent of drivers have actually nodded off, or physically closed their eyes while behind the wheel? Could this possibly be true? Or is this just National Sleep Foundation propaganda ginned up for Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (yes, really)? I know I’ve never nodded off behind the wheel… have you?

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43 Comments on “Mind-Blowing Statistic Of The Day: 41 Percent Of Drivers Have Fallen Asleep at The Wheel...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yes I did frequently during my college years by virtue of being engaged to a very controlling girl that lived an hour from where my parents did.  Together several months a year and then driving to see her during the summer months.  It’s a wonder I survived.  Driving home at 1am is a recipe for disaster.  (Whatever happened to her?  Have I told you about my ex-wife?)
    BTW Asleep at the Wheel is my all time favorite band.

    • 0 avatar

      HA!. I have one of those too. Somewhat the same story.
      One time I fell asleep on I-75 right in front of the Fermi nuclear power plant in Monroe, MI … big long straight stretch of freeway. We had to go see the freakin Pandas at the Toledo Zoo. I was 100 yrds from the a huge ditch when I woke up scrapping the left guard rail with the side of my rear bumper on our way back.
      Found myself asleep at a traffic light several times wondering how long I had been there.That was when I was younger. Now-a-days I’m good with only 5 hrs of sleep a night.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, yeah … she never woke up on the trip back from the zoo!!

  • avatar

    Just the once whilst driving home after having been awake for 30 odd hours filming a road rally in the middle of nowhere in northern England. I must have had my eyes closed for 10+ seconds and was only jolted back to reality after crossing the ‘rumble strip’ along the edge of the road.
    Incidentally I’ve found that the best thing for keeping oneself alert whilst driving tired is glucose tablets. They seem to work a hell of a lot faster than Red Bull. Failing that, bang your head on the rim of the steering wheel – pain is quite good at focusing the brain!

  • avatar

    I just don’t understand these studies…unless they are eventually expected to result in more laws or intervention.

    What…in car monitors?

    This is like doing a survey on how many people got extremely angry at a spouse while arguing and driving.
    Or How many people drove home from work emotionally disturbed enough to have admittedly driven the distance without concentrating on the drive.

    What the hell is the point!!!

  • avatar

    Yes I have, and I blame the insufferably dull stretches of asphalt found in my part of flyover country.  Never dozed off on the autobahn.

    • 0 avatar

      +1.  Keeping it at 60 in a modern car is like watching paint dry.

      That’s why the best road trip car is something ponderous like a Suburban. Because you can push it enough to get floaty and noisy and otherwise sort of keep your attention without going all that far over the limit. Getting through road trip distances of revenue enhancement in a composed road car that’s just getting settled in at 90 is tough.

    • 0 avatar

      @ aspade “revenue ehancement?” please explain.

  • avatar

    When I was about 14, my dad fell asleep with the family in the car, and we just grazed the end of a bridge abutment, skiving some trim off the car.  Without my mother’s screams just ahead of this, it would have been much worse.
    I’ve dozed off myself several times.  The first was in college, and my left front tire struck the (somewhat) sloped end of a low dividing curb at high speed, tossing the car up and sideways a bit.
    Later, I’ve drifted onto the rumbled edge of the road a couple of times, an invention for which I am very grateful.
    Sadly, a young man I knew died many years ago as a passenger, after his driver friend fell asleep at the wheel and they struck a tree.
    Therefore, I have some interest in the technology advances in the area of sleep deprivation and driving. Lately, I’ve found that No-Doze type products really help me.

  • avatar

    The thing that does the best job of keeping me awake is munching carrots. On long roadtrips, I often bring a pound bag . I’ve never fallen asleep at the wheel. If the carrots stop keeping me awake, I know it’s time to take a brief snooze.

    The hardest time I ever had staying awake was driving in ’96 from DC to Albany, about 400 miles, for my best friend’s wedding. I’d been working very hard to finish something before the trip, and my recollection is that I’d gotten about 4 hours of sleep the previous 4-5 nights. This was BC (before carrots), and I would open the window wide, slap my face, yell, sing, and god knows what else. I’d hoped to see my aunt and uncle in Mt. Vernon NY, probably about 3/5ths of the way there, but they were out, so I snoozed for 40 minutes on their porch and then went on. I did a bit better on the Laconic Parkway after the snooze, but after a couple of hrs I was feeling it again. I was about to get off the highway for another snooze when I saw a sign: Albany: 45, and I kept going.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    Similar to most, there were ridiculous college-age night trips where I may well have zonked out for several miles along some empty flat highway.
    Some Sunday mornings lead to rumble-strip kisses, but the common themes are always minimal traffic, monotonous straight highway, and abiding to lullaby-slow speed limits.
    Needless to say, no incidents of any note ever occurred.

  • avatar

    I’ve been close a few times, now when I start getting tired I just pull off for a half hour nap.  Once the half hour turned in to a couple hours, and I left the headlights on.  Yay for jumper cables.  I’ll take a dead battery over a dead me any day.

  • avatar

    I can’t say I have ever fallen asleep at the wheel, but I did have one similar incident. Basically I was driving home from work one day in and one minute I could remember opening the door of my car and the next thing I knew, I was already home and closing the door. I could not for the life of me remember the intervening drive. I couldn’t have fallen asleep as that drive was a 30 minute suburban route in stop and go traffic. It was as if my brain shut off and went into auto pilot. I’m sure some people who do not enjoy their daily commutes would love to possess such an ability but I’m not certain how careful of a driver I was being considering I couldn’t even remember the drive. I was in a Hyundai Sonata at the time in case anyone is wondering.
    Has anyone else had this happen?

    • 0 avatar

      @cmdjing: Yes, it happened to me many times. When I lived in Atlanta, I had a job that was rather demanding. To make matters worse, the company moved from an easy commute by train to the Buckhead area to Norcross, GA (about 10-15 mins north of Atlanta). I lived near the airport. No other way to get there in a reasonable amount of time unless you drove.
      On a good day, traversing the 38 miles one way took an hour. There were few good days commuting in the ATL. The commute, in combination with the long hours had me exhausted on Wednesday evenings. I had many commutes in those two years either to or from work where I have no recollection of the ride.
      Was I asleep? Not in the closed eye sense, but I was probably functionally unconscious, and only operating on reflexes. I never hit the rumble strips or anything else, thankfully.

    • 0 avatar

      I did that once too. Scared me to death the next day when I reflected on it. I was in the Navy and driving from FLA to TN after work on a Friday after a week of 5 hour nights (not enough for me at the time). I drove from somewhere south of Atlanta up into TN a ways and arrived not aware of how I did it. Neat trick but scared me to death.

      Have been awakened by the tap of a police flashlight on the driver’s window. A courteous move along, you’re not welcome to park here (store parking lot). I realized years later that I should have owned a VW Westfalia van back then. Pull the curtains and take a snooze. Was already driving aircooled Beetles. DUH!

      Figured out a long time ago that if I am traveling I need to eat a minimum of food and contrary to what I thought when I was young – stay away from sweet drinks. The sugar screws me up and negates anything the caffeine might do for me. These days it is nearly black coffee and no eating that keeps me awake. Still need a reasonable amount of sleep, no traveling on 3 hours of sleep.

      Also learned to turn down offers from Narcoleptic drivers.

      I had a coworker years ago that nearly killed me twice.

      First time thought he was tired like me, second time I had a theory that I would not test again. He visited a doc at the insistence of our boss and confirmed his status.

      First time I was in the back of a military police van behind a “soundproof” divider in a noisy diesel Ducato. He dosed off and I couldn’t wake him. Passenger was looking out the right window at the night lights. Finally (~5-8 secs) pounded on the divider window with my aluminum flashlight and passenger woke him after some effort. We nearly had a wreck.

      Second time I had been up three days (loved the military optional sleep) and needed a ride home. He says – sure I slept well last night (had been off duty). He offered to drive my car to his house so I could nap along the way and then I could drive the last couple of miles by myself to my house. I woke up to the sound of skidding tires and the feeling of my Beetle Bug up on two wheels as we skidded towards a city bus. Mowed down some street signs with my car’s fender, ruined that rear fender, bent a rear wheel and I still don’t know where the city bus went – how it missed us. He tells me – I don’t know what happened. Something was wrong with the brakes. Riiight. He later admitted falling asleep and then something woke him up, swerved and he nailed the brakes hard at the same time to avoid the bus. Like any proper rear engined vehicle it tried to switch ends.

      I never trusted his awake status again. Witnessed him fall asleep at a desk in mid-sentence a few weeks later. Wow…

  • avatar

    Some neighbors of mine got married (over 50 years ago) after he dozed off on the trip between their habitations. But neither was a control freak.
    Same neighbors only got rid of their ’64 Chevelle convertible maybe five years ago, but that’s another story. They offered it to me, and I ***might*** have bought it had it had a stick.

  • avatar

    Yes, just last week, and in a VERY scary place – Rt 128 around Boston just after rush hour. I was on my way to a meeting at my office. Oddly enough, I had a good night’s sleep but was up a couple hours earlier than normal to make the 2hr drive down from Maine. Just one of those mornings when I was yawning and sleepy, just not waking up. Thank GOD for those rumble strips! One minute I was in the center lane of 3, the next I was all four wheels across the strips and heading off the shoulder of the road. I stopped, pulled off onto the grass, put on the hazards, and shut my eyes for ten minutes. I should have done that LONG before I got to Rt 128, and feel very, very stupid about the whole thing.

    I guess it runs in the family – in the mid-70’s my favorite Uncle fell asleep driving his brand-new un-insured Corvette and comprehensively shredded the thing in a stand of trees. No seatbelt on, but he walked away with nothing but bruises. Thankfully I was luckier.  

  • avatar

    I actually don’t have great night vision, because of very mild cadillacs I have in my eyes (cataracts).
    By “areas of revenue enhancement” I think aspade is referring to the same stuff Jan & Dean were in their song that begins:
    Freeway flyer, gotta make his quota today. Oh, hell, here it is:

    Freeway flyer, gotta make his quota today

    The sharpest cars around, there ain’t no doubt
    Are those big black & white jobs that really move out
    On the Hollywood Freeway flyin’ past
    Writin’ up hot shoes drivin’ too fast

    (Freeway flyer) gonna shut you down now
    (Freeway flyer) gonna write you up now
    (Freeway flyer) don’t even try now
    (Freeway flyer) or a ticket come by now
    Freeway flyer, gotta make his quota today

    They hide behind the bushes on the side of the road
    Waiting for their next writing episode
    They sharpen up their pencils & straighten their pad
    They can’t wait to punch it out to think they’re bad

    (instrumental, accompanied by blaring siren)

    You don’t stand a chance no matter what you drive
    & when he pulls you over, don’t you give him no jive
    ‘Cause Big John Law don’t take no lip
    Unless you’re a chick & you’re really hip

    Freeway flyer, gotta make his quota today

  • avatar

    @  David…. I’ve got try that carrot thing. This “revenue ehancement” stuff is kinda scary. Can I still getaway with driving 7 to 10mph over while driving in the US?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      5 mph no problem.  10 over?  Depends on the state, the cop, how cranky he is, what the original speed limit was (we talking 65 in a 55 or 85 in a 75?) and the phase of the moon.  I enjoy driving 85mph plus in a 75mph zone so I have a good radar detector.

  • avatar

    I’ll never forget the stretch of I-80 from Nebraska to Cheyenne as it’s dark and there is nothing out there. I thought I was going to die on that stretch, but didn’t all asleep. Of course I was 19 and back then and now I can afford a hotel.

  • avatar

    Could this possibly be true?

    Sure, I did it once…and let me tell you nothing wakes you out of sound sleep quicker than a rumble strip.  I sure hope they give the guy who invented those strips some sort of civil engineering medal of honor.  He must have save a few thousand lives over the years.

  • avatar

    Despite many cross country trips it has only happened once, less that 60 miles from home.  A friend fell asleep on a motorcycle.

  • avatar

    I believe the number.  I, too have had instances where I have nodded of and found myself on the shoulder or in another lane.  That was many years ago when I was chronically sleep deprived due to work and a girlfriend.  Lately, I have “microbursts” of sleep – I’m out for a second or less.  Sometimes you just are not aware but you find that  a very short passage of a song on the radio goes missing or you are stopped at a light and suddenly the car in front of you is 30 feet ahead…I make it a point to get more sleep now…

  • avatar

    When I was seventeen, driving back from Molson Park in Barrie with five friends.  Everyone else in the car was asleep, save me as the driver—and not for long.  The traffic on the 400 was bad so I took Hwy 27 south.  For the record, 27 is a normal road: stoplights, intersections, etc.
    I was in my father’s Toyota Van.  I don’t think I fell asleep, but I definitely went insensible because I snapped back to consciousness by my alarmed passenger going about 150km/h.  Now, the Van is not a speed demon, so I must have zoned out for a good while in order to have reached that speed.  It’s luck I didn’t harm anyone.

  • avatar

    For a summer job in college I worked 12 hour shifts (days and nights) and had a 50-minute drive each way. I barely made it home many times at the beginning of a night cycle. Thank goodness for open windows, loud music and cigarettes.

  • avatar

    I fell asleep once. I was in high school, getting up at 5 am to do chores then driving 20 miles to take a couple classes at the local college. About 15 miles into my drive, I fell asleep and woke up when the car hit the shoulder on the opposite side of the road. Luckily the road was empty. Scary part was that another half-mile would’ve put me on the wrong end of a ‘T’ intersection with a very busy road.

  • avatar

    I’m sad to say I’ve fallen asleep many times, but not recently. Last times were just sitting at long lights and doing the 1 second nod and instant wake up, but in the past, I’ve had a couple of very near escapes from disasters.
    One of the scariest ones was when I, after not sleeping for over 24 hours, get to work at midnight and get told that I HAD to go to a “Defensive Driving” course to be able to drive the company vehicles. I was a total mess by the time I got back there, after going home for an hour and coming back. I slept through half the class, but I was the only one who got 100% on the test! At the end, I had been up for almost 48 hours, except for an hour or so I slept during the class. I was acting pretty much like I was drunk at this point, and I got in my Jeep GC to drive home, about a 7 mile ride.
    As I was approaching a railroad overpass, I fell asleep the first time. I woke up as my tire hit the curb, and I almost crashed into the car in the lane next to me when I jerked the wheel to get off the curb! As much as that scared me, about a mile down the road, I fell asleep again, and woke up just as I was driving up on the median. I somehow managed to stay awake by pulling the hair on my arm and yelling at the top of my lungs the rest of the way home. I went in, put my dogs out for 10 minutes, and then stumbled into bed and woke up 12 hours later.
    I’ve done the “autopilot” thing a few times, where I went someplace and didn’t remember any part of getting there.
    I’m convinced the number of people doing this stuff is far beyond any and all estimates.

  • avatar

    Yes.  Nothing like waking from a pleasant dream to find you are at the controls of a car bucking as it heads off the shoulder at 55mph.
    A Very Important Point: You MUST have your steering adjusted so that the car gradually falls off the road crown if you stop steering, such as by falling asleep.  If your steering is set up wrong, so that the car climbs across the crown to the left, and you fall asleep, you are likely to smash into some innocent oncoming party at a closing speed of twice your speed.
    Another suggestion, if you must drive while drowsy, is to not use the cruise control.

  • avatar

    Guilty as charged.
    Twice.  Both times young and dumb.
    Post basic training – I was so feckin’ tired just fell right asleep.  Woke up rolling along the highway in the breakdown lane.
    Second time was about four or five years later.  Daylight out too.  Just dozed off for a couple of seconds driving home on a rural two-laner in Texas.  Went off-road, hit a culvert and did about $2.5K damage in suspension and rims/tires on the passenger side.
    I now stop if I get tired.

  • avatar

    Yup, I have fallen asleep many times behind the wheel, and crashed twice because of it; one time most hysterically.  Then again, that was back in the my satalite TV days when I was routinely doing 80 and 90 work weeks, and still trying to commute back home……  It’s late, my grammar is….slowly…..Zzzzzzz

  • avatar

    I think my dad still has that LP…
    I’ve never fallen asleep, but I’ve had more than my share of “very long blinks” while drowsy.  I’ve found that sunflower seeds (in the shell) help keep you active enough to stay concentrated on the road, although if you have high blood pressure they’re probably not as good for you as the carrots.
    In college my wife had a friend whose fiancee was in the Navy and when he was in port he would make the 5-6 hour drive to visit her in college whenever he could, like if he had a 24 hour pass.  He would essentially drive in lieu of sleep, and had black donuts on the side of his car from where he had bounced off some (moving) tractor-trailer tires going down the interstate while sleeping.  One one of his trips racing back to his base he fell asleep and drifted into a Jersey barrier which tore off his front bumper cover, but he didn’t notice that until the MPs wouldn’t let him on base because his front license plate was missing.

    • 0 avatar

      The rushed trips home in the military probably generate alot of these stories. I drove from VA to Huntsville to see a girl I was dating. They got worried when I didn’t show up one weekend. They found me asleep in my car in their driveway at about 2AM. Just going to catch a few winks so I’m awake when they answer the door. A couple of hours later…
      In retrospect it wasn’t worth it. Errr – she wasn’t worth it. Never appreciated the long hours I put in to spend time with her over special weekends or holidays. ERRRRG. On the other hand I married a REALLY great girl and still have her years later.

    • 0 avatar

      Carrots, gum, talking to myself, screaming, the radio, yelling at truckers on the CB, none of it worked. I took a whole BOTTLE of Vivarin once and other than making my stomach churning, it did nothing to keep me awake. I had a period in my early 20’s where I was working a lot of hours, and since I have trouble sleeping at night (I’m 180 degrees off, I’ve always, since birth, wanted to sleep in the daytime), I was a mess. I fell asleep several times just walking! The day I took the Vivarin, I was working alone as the only security guard at the Las Vegas hotel I worked at. I had a bunch of lunatics coming in and causing trouble until about 10AM, but then it slowed down and I was a mess. I took about 4 of the Vivarin, and nothing happened, so I took more, and still nothing. I “stumbled” (Fell asleep walking to the front desk) and took the rest of it. About a half hour later, I had an employee hurt himself and I had to make out a report on the injury, and I couldn’t do it. I was too sleepy. I locked myself in the office when another guard came in early, so I could do “paperwork”, but I finally fell asleep for about an hour, and I was ok for the rest of the shift, but was right on the edge of falling asleep for the entire half hour ride home. When I got there, I took a shower, went to bed, and slept until 7AM, when I had to get up to go to work. That was the day I fell asleep while walking, and dumped $10K worth of chips on the floor, only losing $1. I said I just stumbled, and didn’t admit I fell asleep.

    • 0 avatar

      nrd515 – you sound like the perfect 3rd shift employee! I did alot of 3rd shift military police work in the Navy. The shift was more interesting, the bosses were at home asleep, and things were either quiet or crazy (drunk Navy nitwits). We alternated months, a month of days, a month of nights. The night shift was always a little short handed so I always volunteered to stay nights. Might get 5-6 months of nights at a time. Found I could get by on 5 hours of sleep and still have a pretty good part of the day off to get outside.
      Then, one of the 7AM-4PM office types decided it would be better to have everyone alternate days and nights WEEKLY. WTF? People were falling asleep left and right, was hard on the family guys/gals, people had short fuses, people were wrecking the patrol cars (scrapes, dents, etc), our folks were even getting into more trouble off duty. Yeah, good idea daytimers! Finally things changed back.
      The fun part was working a night shift, off at 6AM but not home until 7:30 AM (shift change consumed some of our time off), getting home (25 min drive), getting into bed, and then having the door buzzer waking us up because one of the daytimers decided to have training from 9AM until say 2PM and then we’d be due back on duty that evening at 6PM for another 12 hour shift. People were plotting the daytimers’ deaths…

  • avatar

    Happened to me nearly 40 years ago.  Ended up turned 180 in a ditch.  Luckily the only damage was a crease in a rear fender of my MG Midget.

    Ever since I try like hell to avoid driving when drowsy.  “Power naps” are a good thing.

    I’ve never understood the relative lenience the public (and LE) have toward drowsy driving as compared to alcohol impaired driving.  A drunk driver has poor judgement and slow reaction times but a sleeping driver has NO judgement and NO reactions.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s because there’s no organization called Mothers Against Sleepy Drivers. Alcohol is a screaming evil. Lack of sleep, cell phones, etc., aren’t considered as dangerous. Besides, it’s a lot harder to ticket for lack of sleep compared to blood alcohol level.

  • avatar

    Never had the problem in a car, as I’m very quick to pull over and take a half hour catnap any time the eyes start to get heavy.

    About a decade and a half ago, however, I was shocked to realize that you could fall asleep on a motorcycle. It was about 2300 on a summer night and I was two-thirds of the way through a 500 mile trip from Johnstown, PA to Acton, MA to see the then-new girlfriend. I actually dozed off, and only came to a split-second before leaving the pavement at about 75mph.

    Scared the bejeezus out of me, to say the least.

  • avatar

    I’m amazed I haven’t ever fallen asleep at the wheel.  I’ve been close many times, and always said I’d never drive in that condition again.  Many family members and friends have fallen asleep and some even woke up in the ditch, but fortunately the worst damage between all of them was about $3000 worth of body damage after scraping a highway sign.  As others have noted, it usually happens on an empty stretch of road.

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