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AAA Research Finds Drivers Underestimate Drowsiness Behind Wheel

Driver fatigue is one of several recurring factors in traffic accidents across Denver and throughout the country. While that is well known, new research shows that drivers may not be very adept at gauging their own drowsiness.

A staggering 75% of drivers participating in an American Automobile Association study underestimated their level of drowsiness while operating a vehicle, according to AAA.

“Being drowsy while driving is a dangerous form of impairment, and it does not resolve or improve with continued driving,” Dr. David Yang, the AAA Foundation’s president and executive director, said in a statement announcing the results. “Our goal is to help drivers learn to heed the early warning signs of drowsiness so they can stop, rest, and then continue their journey as safely as possible.”

Drowsy driving can quickly lead to tragedy on the road when a driver nods off to sleep behind the wheel. Even when a driver is still awake, fatigue can slow reaction time and impair decision-making, increasing the risk of a crash.

“Crashes caused by drowsy driving tend to be severe because the driver may not attempt to brake or swerve to avoid a collision, so the resulting impact occurs at a high rate of speed,” according to AAA. “A drowsy driver may also be startled and lose control of the vehicle.”

A total of 16% to 21% of all police-reported fatal vehicle crashes likely involve drowsy driving, AAA found in previous research.

The most clear sign of drowsiness or fatigue is that a driver has trouble keeping his or her eyes open. Drifting from a lane or having trouble remembering the last few miles driven are also common signs that a person is too tired to drive.

To test driver drowsiness, AAA researchers designed a 150-mile simulated nighttime highway driving experiment. They included a simulated rest area every 20 miles. The study’s participants were given the option to stop, leave the driving simulator, walk around, nap, drink coffee or have a snack. They also had the option to skip the rest area and keep driving.

Participants were also given a monetary incentive to complete the course as quickly as possible without crashing.

The research team used a questionnaire to determine how participants gauged their own drowsiness. The researchers also tracked eye movement and closure to monitor actual sleepiness.

The participants were largely aware that they became fatigued during the study but underestimated the extent of that fatigue, according to AAA.

About 75% of drivers who rated their own drowsiness as low showed signs of being moderately or very drowsy, the researchers found. Even when drivers’ eyes were closed for 15 seconds or longer in a single minute span – a sign of severe drowsiness – about one-quarter of them rated their drowsiness level as low.

Drivers who recognized they were drowsy often still opted against taking breaks. Extremely drowsy drivers declined 75% of their rest stop opportunities and instead continued driving.

“The results demonstrate a need to help drivers recognize how drowsy they are,” AAA said in a statement. “Knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel.”

The Risks of Drowsy Driving in Denver

There is no mistaking the importance of being alert and awake when you hit the road and staying that way at all times behind the wheel.

It is particularly important in places like Denver, a dense urban area that regularly sees a heavy mix of car, truck, motorcycle, bike and pedestrian traffic. The city’s elevation and the harsh weather it sees during winter months already create challenges. 

Drivers who try to navigate those challenges while drowsy put themselves and everyone else on the road at risk.

A fatigued driver cannot react to traffic around them in the time needed to remain safe. A motorist who falls asleep behind the wheel cannot hit the brakes, change lanes or swerve when traffic stalls ahead.

As AAA points out, drowsy driving accidents tend to be more severe. 

They often involve large trucks, whose drivers may be pushed by their employers to log long hours behind the wheel with little rest in order to reach their destinations on time. Rideshare drivers are also commonly to blame in fatigued driving accidents because they are incentivized to stay on the road and there are few if any checks to prevent drowsy driving.

But it is not just truckers and Uber drivers at fault.

About 1 in 25 adult drivers reports falling asleep behind the wheel every 30 days, according to data compiled by AAA. More than 6,400 people are killed in collisions caused by drowsy driving every year.

Injured in a Drowsy Driving Accident? Know Your Rights

A person who is injured in a car accident in Colorado has the right to seek compensation from those responsible for the crash. 

That often is a negligent driver and his or her insurer. Drivers are obligated under state law to operate their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner and to refrain from dangerous behavior like speeding, drinking and driving or texting behind the wheel. They are also expected to stay off the road if they are drowsy or fatigued.

Others who may be liable for a collision include third parties like defective vehicle parts manufacturers and road construction crews that create hazards.

The monetary damages available in Colorado car accident cases are intended to help injured people get back into the financial position that they were in before the collisions. Money for doctors’ bills, vehicle damage, missed wages and the impact of related injuries on the person’s long-term earning capacity are all on the table.

Speak with a Denver Car Accident Lawyer 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a hit and run or other crash in Colorado, a Denver car accident lawyer at Levine Law can help you take action. Our attorneys combine decades of experience and a strong track record of success in the courtroom and through negotiated settlements.

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