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Study: Acute sleep deprivation increases drivers’ culpable crash risk

The findings of a recent study suggest that for each hour of sleep that drivers lose, their culpable crash risk increases.

Most people in Kentucky and elsewhere are aware that behaviors such as speeding or drinking and driving can be hazardous. However, they may not know that getting behind the wheel when they have not had adequate sleep can be just as dangerous and may result in accidents that cause serious injuries or death. In fact, a study that was recently published in the Sleep journal found that drivers who get less than the recommended sleep in a 24-hour period have a greater risk of culpable involvement in motor vehicle collisions.

How does drowsiness affect drivers?

Drowsy driving occurs when people who are overly tired or fatigued choose to get behind the wheel. While the dangers posed by falling asleep while driving are obvious, many do not realize that their ability to safely operate their vehicles may be impaired even if they do not fall asleep. Due to drowsiness, motorists' reaction time may be slowed, they may be less able to pay attention to the road, and their ability to make sound decisions may be compromised. As a result of such impairments, drivers may be less able to respond appropriately and in time to hazards and other situations that may arise while on the road.

The link between sleep deprivation and crash involvement

In an effort to understand the relationship between acute lack of sleep and culpability in auto accidents, researchers conducted a modified case-control study. To this end, the researchers reviewed the data from 5,470 motor vehicle collisions that were investigated between 2005 and 2007 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Estimating the link between drivers' crash risk and how sleep-deprived they were at the time of the accidents, the research team relied on self-reporting regarding drivers' sleep prior to the wrecks. In their analysis, they accounted for specific errors, as well as any environmental, driver-related and fatigue-related factors, that played a role in the collisions.

Based on the findings of their study, the research team concluded that drivers who get less than seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period have a greater risk of blamable involvement in motor vehicle accidents. As compared to those who reported getting between seven and nine hours of sleep, motorists who reported getting six hours of sleep were 1.3 times more likely to cause an accident. The odds of culpable involvement in wrecks increased to 1.9 for those who reported five hours of sleep and to 2.9 for those who only got four hours.

Seeking legal guidance

When people in Kentucky are involved in motor vehicle accidents, they may suffer serious injuries that require extensive medical treatment, as well as significant time away from work to recover. For many, this leads to concerns over how they will meet their financial obligations while dealing with mounting medical bills and a loss of income. Depending on the circumstances, however, the drivers responsible for such collisions may be held financially liable. Therefore, those who have been injured in auto wrecks may benefit from consulting with an attorney to learn more about their rights and options for pursuing compensatory damages.