Driving Tired Remains a Persistent Problem With One Solution: Study

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
driving tired remains a persistent problem with one solution study

We’ve all been there. It’s late, we haven’t slept enough, and we’re cruising down a chilly freeway wrapped in warmth and white noise. Then, unexpectedly, we begin to nod off. From here, we can either spring back to a terrified state of consciousness that will sustain us the rest of the journey or we can fall asleep and ultimately destroy our vehicle — and maybe ourselves — in the process.

Drowsy driving is a real problem. But, while we’re always hearing about how it’s just as dangerous as driving drunk, we don’t often see statistics backing that up. That’s mainly because it’s a lot harder to assess someone’s tiredness than it is to give them a breathalyzer and toss them in the back of a squad car. But a 2014 study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated drowsy drivers could contribute to 328,000 accidents annually, with around 6,400 being fatal.

That’s around 20 percent of all vehicular deaths, according to AutoBlog, which turned us on to this topic in the first place.

So, what’s the solution? Well, nobody has a great handle on that right now. While some states have attempted to make sleepy driving illegal, it has to be the most difficult crime to prosecute in the world. If you’re pulled over for lousy driving, under suspicion that you might be too drowsy, odds are good that the sudden rush of adrenaline will perk you up so much that the police wouldn’t have any idea you were about to cozy up to the sandman.

New York and Washington state have introduced measures that would have made it a felony for a dozing driver to cause a crash that kills someone, but neither bill has passed. To date, only Arkansas and New Jersey have enacted such a law. However, both states require that a person be awake for a full 24-hour period to be worthy of criminal charges. In addition to being nearly impossible to prove in court, that’s also so far beyond the limits of normal tiredness that it isn’t likely to come up all that often.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said that Arkansas has only yielded three convictions since 2013, when the law came into effect. “We don’t have a sleep meter, like we have a breathalyzer, so it’s difficult to recognize drowsy driving,” said Pam Fischer, a consultant for the GHSA. “It’s hard to prosecute, hard to make the case, and hard to enforce unless the driver readily admits it.”

Preventative measures may be a superior solution. A lot of states have included the risks of fatigued motoring as mandatory part of driver’s education and the Governors Highway Safety Association has launched a campaign to raise awareness on a national scale.

Having taken a lot of overnight drives, I can attest to roadside stops being a godsend. In addition to not being as fraught with as much criminal activity as you might assume, rest stops and service centers offer a place where you can rest your eyes for a few hours. Unfortunately, states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and South Dakota have closed a significant portion of theirs due to budgetary restrictions or lack of use.

“Closing rest stops doesn’t help with the drowsy driving problem,” said Fischer. “The only thing that helps you when you’re tired like this is to get sleep.”

They’re also one of the few ways to help truckers comply with federal laws limiting the number of hours they can drive without rest. Depending on payload and circumstances, truck drivers are required to rest every 11 to 14 hours and they absolutely don’t want to have to stop too early just because their next two pit stops were closed to save the state money.

“Shutting them down would be the end of an era,” said Joanna Dowling, a historian who researches rest areas and runs the website RestAreaHistory.org. “Rest areas take you away from the road and the hecticness of travel and immerse you in the natural landscape.”

In the end, it’s up to the individual not to press on when they start feeling sleepy. All the rest areas in the world aren’t helpful if nobody uses them.

[Image: Garrett/ Flickr ( CC BY 2.0)]

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2 of 29 comments
  • Josh McCullough Josh McCullough on Nov 03, 2017

    Capsule Hotels. Swipe a credit card. $20 gets you eight hours. Done. Use half of it toward road taxes.

  • Eriksvane Eriksvane on Nov 28, 2017

    DO you want to hear the Truth about "speed" limits? Here goes: They are not speed limits; they are slowness limits. For every true speedster who does deserve a ticket for driving too fast, there are 99, give or take a handful, who get tickets simply for not driving slowly enough… "The Allyagottado Folks and the Sleep-Inducing Speed Limits" https://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-allyagottado-folks-and-sleep.html …/… What is the main cause of mortality on highways throughout the world, and certainly throughout the West? Contrary to what [many people] seem to believe, it ain't speed (speed kills, right?). It is drowsiness. It is sleepiness. What causes sleepiness, or drowsiness, if it ain't a sleep-inducing speed limit (or, rather a sleep-inducing slowness limit)? …/…

  • Kcflyer Nice to see California giving NY some competition to be the worst run state in the union.
  • Wolfwagen I see my comment was deleted (BTW nice way to censor) so i will say it again:GTFO here with the pseudo "wealth distribution" BS. A crime is a crime is a crime.Its a slippery slope, what happens next, Jail a rich guy when he kills a pedestrian and let the poor guy who kills a pedestrian walk? What about if the poor guy is a crappy driver and has the record to prove it then what?Or we could go crazy and just institute the death penalty across the board for every driving infraction. That will make people better drivers or stop driving altogether which will make the greenies happy (damm it I just gave them an idea - SOB!!!)
  • Wolfwagen No. Bring back the J80 with an inline six and reduced electronics (i.e. no giant touch screen) and they will probably sell like hotcakes
  • David S. " test vehicles sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic."??? Test vehicles are programmed by humans, HUMANS sometimes make sudden stops when uncertain about how to navigate traffic, Duh!!
  • Frank The last guy was doing fine, this is a sales emergency that they're hoping Tim can fix. They want to hang onto the crazy margins from the covid era, which now in the face of abundant inventory, insane interest rates and inflation are a long distant wet dream. Its time to start offering value again, cash on the hood and 0% financing. Move the metal!