The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers insufficient sleep to be a public health problem. An estimated 50 to 70 million American adults have a sleep disorder, according to the Institute of Medicine. Countless more suffer from insufficient sleep for a variety of reasons, from irregular work schedules to personal behavioral choices. The CDC estimates that one-third of Americans are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Whatever the cause, insufficient sleep is a known risk factor in motor vehicle crashes. The less sleep a person gets, the more likely he or she is to get into a car accident.
Car accident rates
If you've had 5-6 hours of sleep in the past 24, you are twice as likely to get into an accident while driving as a person who has had 7 or more hours of sleep. At 4-5 hours of sleep, you become four times more likely to crash your car. This is according to a report released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The crash rates are akin to those suffered by drunk drivers between .08 and .15 BAC.
Safety experts and legislators have waged a decades-long battle against drunk driving. While the problem is far from eradicated, public opinion regarding drunk driving is decidedly negative. Fatigued driving does not suffer from the same stigma. Many drivers who would never consider drinking and driving are willing to engage in sleepy driving. In a nation where sleep deprivation is on the rise, it will be a challenge to convince people to change their behavior to make sleep a priority.
Long drives, in particular, are fraught with the potential for fatigue-based accidents. Drivers should consider pre-planning stops during long drives to get some rest. Naps are effective in combating drowsy-driving accidents. Other methods employed by drivers, including loud music, open windows and snacking have not proven effective. Caffeine can provide temporary relief, but the problem of fatigue will come back stronger once the caffeine wears off. If you are fighting exhaustion, the right course of action is to get off the road. It is no safer to drive tired than it is to drive drunk.
Source: NPR, "Drivers Beware: Crash Rate Spikes With Every Hour Of Lost Sleep," by Allison Aubrey, 6 December 2016