Sleep and Human Performance
Risk of Drowsy Driving Crashes in Adolescents/Young Adults
Sleepiness-related motor vehicle crashes pose a serious risk to adolescents and young adults. Studies show that young people aged 16-24 years—especially males—have a higher likelihood of a drowsy driving crash than all other age groups. These crashes are also much more likely to occur between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. that at other times of day. These are often very serious and lethal because the sleepy driver drifts out of lane and crashes without an effort to brake or avoid the crash.
Transcript of Videotaped Presentation (http://www.bioedonline.org/presentations/)
Finally, I want to mention that this sleep debt does have grave implications for driving. We highlight driving relative to sleepiness because there’s a significant effort in the medical and governmental communities to try and prevent drowsy driving crashes, which claim thousands of lives a year and tens of thousands of people are injured by them. Studies have shown—and this is data from one of them that we did at the University of Pennsylvania—that drowsy driving crashes are particularly likely to occur at night between 11 p.m., shown here on the right, all the way through midnight to 4 a.m., 6 a.m., and they peak in the morning. Now, of particular concern in this study was evidence that crashes were three times more likely to occur in males, and most importantly, the group that far and away had the most crashes was young adults and adolescents between the ages of 16 and 24. So males, particularly out at night driving with inadequate sleep, are at very high risk for fall asleep crashes. These crashes are particularly lethal and have high bodily injury rates because typically, the driver fails to brake or gain control of steering and avoid the collision. The driver falls asleep and hits the object, an abutment, or runs off the road and hits a tree, at full force, with the car moving at full speed. So this is an area in which prevention has been a major focus.
I want to say that these are not alcohol related crashes. They’ve been proven not to be. In all of these crashes in this study, there was no alcohol involved, or any other drugs. These are young people falling asleep. So even if you don’t care about falling asleep in class and you don’t care about falling asleep on the job—if it’s not a safety sensitive job—you should care about driving, operating a motor vehicle or any safety sensitive equipment when you’re sleepy, and that alone is a good enough reason to get you sleep. But frankly, everything you learn, you will remember better if you get your sleep; everything you do, you will do better if you get your sleep. And it’s not enough to cheat your sleep during the work week and then try to recover on the weekend. Rather, it’s much better to try to live a more disciplined schedule that assures you get as much sleep as you can during the week and avoid trying to do things like driving at night, particularly long drives at night, where you’re most vulnerable to fall asleep crashes. Thank you.
- Pack, A. I., Pack, A. M., Rodgman, E., Cucchiara, A., Dinges, D. F., & Schwab, C. W. (1995). Characteristics of crashes attributed to the driver having fallen asleep. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 27, 769-775.
- Pack, A. I., Pack, A. M., Rodgman, E., Cucchiara, A., Dinges, D. F., & Schwab, C. W. (1995). Characteristics of crashes attributed to the driver having fallen asleep. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 27, 769-775. (Adapted 2007).
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Funded by the following grant(s)
This work was supported by National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA cooperative agreement NCC 9-58.