Distracted driving usually brings images of drivers texting, talking, or tapping a smart phone or other device, not nodding off. Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, however, are telling us fatigue is the leading cause of distracted driving crashes and near-crashes, and these tired-driver crashes are happening ten times more often than was estimated in the past.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute researchers concluded that fatigue was a factor in 20 percent of crashes, ten times more than the 2 to 3 percent that had been estimated in earlier research. Young people, 18 to 20 years old, are responsible for what researchers called “significantly more fatigue-related crashes than any other age group.”
EndDD.org focuses on young people. By the end of this year, more than 200,000 teenagers in 35 states will have participated in our interactive presentation to raise awareness of and stop distracted driving. It’s clear that all of us working to end distracted driving, to help our kids and their parents adopt safe driving habits, must now also warn about fatigue and the importance of getting enough rest before you get behind the wheel.
Car manufacturers should get the message too: for all that new technology going into the dashboard, they ought to focus also on technology that would alert a driver dozing off.
Here’s what one of the researchers said in the official news release about the study:
“One of the most important results from the 100-car naturalistic driving study was the degree to which fatigue is a cause of accidents,” said Charlie Klaue, group leader for teen risk and injury prevention at the transportation institute’s Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety.
“A finding that surprised people is the prevalence of fatigue during the day. We found significantly more crashes/near crashes due to fatigue during the day than at night,” she said.
“The study allowed us, for the first time, to observe driver behavior just prior to a crash. In 20 percent of all crashes and 16 percent of all near crashes, the driver was showing fatigue. We saw eye-lid closure, head bobbing, severe loss of facial musculature, micro sleep – which is when your eyes drift shut and then pop up,” said Klauer. “This was not just yawning. The drivers were asleep.”