According to previous surveys, drowsy driving accounts for two to three percent of all accidents. These accidents are most likely to occur early in the morning or late at night.
Now a new study has thrown out these assumptions. Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted a 100-car “naturalistic” driving study. Unlike a survey, naturalist research observes real-time driver behavior as it takes place in its natural setting. There is limited or no interference with the subjects.
The Virginia Tech researchers installed cameras, radar units, accelerometers, lane-tracking software, and in-vehicle network sensor in the vehicles of 100 commuters in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area. Data was collected on these drivers and 132 additional drivers who occasionally used the vehicles.
Overall, the drivers experienced 82 crashes; 761 near crashes; 8,295 incidents, such as braking hard to slow down or stop; and 1,423 non-conflict events, such as running a stop light at an empty intersection.
The study allowed researchers to observe driver behavior right before each event or crash. In 20 percent of all crashes and 16 percent of all near crashes, the driver showed signs of fatigue. These signs included:
- Closed eyelids
- Head bobbing
- Severe relaxation of facial muscles
The researchers compared drivers under age 25, and drivers who drove long distances with the general population. Young drivers, age 18 to 20, were more likely to experience fatigue-related crashes than any other age group. Drowsy driving accidents were most likely to happen during the day.
The Washington area has heavy traffic and long commutes, but the researchers believe the study applies to the population at large. Their calculations suggest that drowsy drivers have a four times greater risk of a crash or near-crash and that 12 percent of all crashes and near-crashes can be attributed to fatigue.
The researchers plan to expand the study to include 2,000 cars. A separate study focusing on 16- to 18-year-old drivers is in progress. The studies are funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Injured by a drowsy driver? Drivers who sleep at the wheel are responsible for the damages they cause. For information about your rights after a Green Bay drowsy driving accident, contact Hupy and Abraham at 800-800-5678.