Study: Too many people are driving while tired in California

Drowsy driving accidents in California can be deadly, but they are also preventable.

Though some motor vehicle crashes are truly accidents, a large number are preventable. Take, for example, an incident that occurs because a California driver is too fatigued to be on the road. Had that driver simply not gotten behind the wheel, no incident would have occurred.

A recent study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety sought to explore just how many people drive while drowsy. The findings are staggering.

The numbers

Researchers complied data from 14,268 crashes that took place between 2009 and 2013 and in which a vehicle had to be towed. Investigators analyzed whether or not a driver was drowsy at the time of the incident through speaking with the motorist or passengers in his or her vehicle. They assessed 25,528 drivers and discovered the following:

  • In 21 percent of fatal car accidents, a driver was noted as drowsy.
  • In 13 percent of incidents that led to someone needing hospitalization, a driver was noted as drowsy.
  • In 7 percent of accidents in which someone needed medical attention, a driver was noted as drowsy.

The foundation extrapolated these numbers to determine that on an annual basis, 328,000 car accidents occur due to drowsy driving.

Why it happens

There are a number of reasons people experience fatigue while driving. Experts note that not getting enough sleep can play a major role in someone's driving ability. Drowsiness can affect someone's reaction time, judgment and awareness levels. Additionally, certain medications cause sleepiness.

That National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out that the most common time for accidents involving drowsiness to occur is in the late afternoon or between midnight and 6 a.m. During these times, people experience a drop in their internal clock - the circadian rhythm - that regulates sleep.

Don't be a statistic

The NHTSA points out that many of these accidents are single-vehicle crashes in which someone simply runs off the road. There is no need for these incidents to occur. At the first sign of exhaustion, a driver should immediately pull over to a safe spot to rest.

When possible, motorists should share long driving responsibilities with another licensed driver. Also, commercial truck drivers and others embarking on long road trips should break up the ride up every few hours so the driver can exit the vehicle and walk around.

Caffeine can be a good short-term solution, but it will not replace one of the most important ways to prevent drowsy driving: sleep. Experts agree that adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.

When these incidents do occur, California law permits victims to hold the negligent party responsible for damages. Anyone who has concerns about this issue should speak to a personal injury attorney.