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Nearly 70% of Americans Drive While Drowsy

Motorists often drive when they shouldn’t, finds new survey.

by on Aug.04, 2014

Drowsy driving results in a significant share of fatal accidents, reports the AAA Foundation.

Nearly seven in ten Americans have driven while drowsy, while millions have engaged in other risky behavior when they likely shouldn’t get behind the wheel, according to a new survey.

Motorists also routinely drive vehicles that should either be parked or taken to a repair shop, reports More than six in 10 have gotten behind the wheel when there’s a “Check Engine” light on, while nearly a third have headed out on a winter morning when they couldn’t see through snowy or icy windshields. And a full one in 10 have driven cars whose doors had to be held closed.

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“Fortunately car insurance is a safety net for bad decisions like these. If you crash because you’re sleepy or sick, your insurance will still pay,” said Managing Editor Michelle Megna. “But your insurance coverage could be in jeopardy if a doctor specifically advised you not to drive.”

Drowsy driving has been blamed for one in every eight highway deaths, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  A separate 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control found one in 24 adults admitting to having fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once in the previous month. And experts caution that the problem could be under-reported because motorists may not realize when they’ve experienced a second or two of so-called “micro-sleep.”

(Have you driven while drowsy? Click Here for more on the story.)

A truck driver was recently arrested for his role in an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that injured comic Tracy Morgan and killed a member of his entourage. The Garden State is one of just two states – along with Arkansas – where driving while drowsy is considered illegal, those who have not been to sleep in at least 24 hours being treated on the same par with a motorist considered intoxicated.

One person was killed, comic Tracy Morgan seriously injured in this crash blamed on drowsy driving.

But being sleepy isn’t the only reason why drivers might consider staying home or handing someone else the keys. According to the study, 53% of respondents said they drove while having a headache while 35% did so when they were sick enough to be in bed. A full 23% admitted driving because they were less drunk than a friend, while 16% got behind the wheel without the contact lenses or glasses they normally need.

(Only one of a dozen small cars pass latest IIHS crash tests. Click Here for the latest.)

The online survey of 2,000 adults over 18 with valid driver’s licenses also found 15% driving while taking a narcotic pain medicine. The website noted that a motorist who ignored a doctor’s orders not to drive could wind up with their car insurance coverage “in jeopardy.”

The survey not only looked at the condition of the driver, but the shape of the car people will be willing to drive. The most common problem motorists admitted ignoring was the “Check Engine” light. A total of 61% of the respondents said they kept driving anyway. And 32% said they headed out with snow or ice-obstructed windshields. Other problems that drivers ignored:

  • Windshield wipers not working, 26%;
  • Speedometer broken, 21%;
  • Horn didn’t work, 19%;
  • Headlight working, 18%;
  • Flat tire: 17%;
  • A door had to be held closed: 10%.

“A combination of two or more problems could increase the risk of a crash exponentially. Imagine having your arm in a cast and also trying to hold your car door shut,” said Megna.

(U.S. automakers blow through annual recall record — in just six months. Click Here for the full story.)

Nearly half of those surveyed by admitted to driving when they shouldn’t have at least once in the prior 12 months. Having to get to work was the biggest reason, cited by 21% of the respondents, followed by the need to get home, a desire to make a doctor’s appointment, or to pick up the kids.

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