Motorists are more likely to be killed by a drowsy driver than a red light runner. According to data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers who failed to get enough sleep caused an average of 824 fatalities each year -- 2.5 percent of the nationwide road toll. By comparison, the latest NHTSA data show an average of 708 red light running fatalities annually.

Less attention is paid to the issue of drowsy driving because there is no automatic way to detect it and issue a citation. NHTSA's data are compiled from the reports made by the officers at the scene of the accident assigning blame on a standardized crash form to drivers who were extremely fatigued or even asleep just before an accident occurred. Drowsy driving is listed a cause in minor fender benders far less often.

NHTSA researchers stressed the limitations of relying on police reports for this assessment.

"Underreporting of the occurrence of drowsy driving is most likely due to lack of firm evidence of such involvement since investigation is done after the crash; drivers unaware of the role that drowsiness played in the crash; drivers reluctant to disclose that they fell asleep or were tired; and fatality of the involved driver," the report acknowledged. "Previous reports cite data limitations that include overreporting due to greater social acceptance of fatigue over alcohol use, speeding, or inattention, or underreporting from crashes involving 'drift out of lane' that could actually be drowsy driving."

Earlier this year, another NHTSA report suggested drowsy driving was responsible for 16.5 percent of all fatal crashes (view report in 2mb PDF file ), far more than the 7 percent attributed to drivers exceeding the posted speed limit.

Technology may provide a partial solution to the drowsy driving problem. Automobile manufacturers are increasingly offering systems that automatically apply the brakes if the car detects the potential for a crash. The insurance industry's Highway Loss Data Institute reports fewer insurance claims from automobiles equipped with these technologies. Lane departure warning systems that vibrate the wheel or sound an alarm if the driver starts drifting have not proved as effective.

"Unfortunately, the same analyses show some tradeoff in an increased number of side-swipe crashes with injuries," the NHTSA report issued in March noted.

View the October report on drowsy driving in a PDF file at the source link below. Source


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