However, a study that observed drivers behind the wheel in real driving environments found that the accident rate due to fatigue was considerably higher — around 20 percent, in fact, or as much as 10 times higher than previously reported rates.

The study is described as “naturalistic,” meaning that it observed drivers in cars on the road over a long period of time. The thought is that this sort of observation is more true to actual statistics than figures that were gleaned from surveys, simulations or other test environments.

Researchers found that the age group with the highest percentage of fatigue-related crashes was an age group that overall has a high accident rate: people ages 18-20. Researchers attributed this to young people tending to sleep later in the night but having early classes, which can lead to sleepiness behind the wheel.

A surprising aspect of the analysis is that drowsy driving was more prevalent during the daytime hours than at night. Participants were observed bobbing their heads, closing their eyes and actually sleeping while driving.

The study was conducted in a grouping of 100 vehicles several years ago. An upcoming study initiated by the federal government will include 2,000 cars, allowing for more accurate data and even more detailed study.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Driver Fatigue Causes 20% of Auto Crashes: Study,” Susan Trulove, April 15, 2013

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