How Many Car Accidents Are Caused by Sleeping Behind the Wheel in Pennsylvania?

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Most car accidents are caused by preventable human errors, such as driving over the speed limit or failing to stop at red lights. Another common example is drowsy driving, which, in some cases, can even lead to falling asleep behind the wheel. Philadelphia car accident lawyers analyze recent auto accident statistics supplied by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to determine how often fatigued or sleeping drivers cause or contribute to crashes and collisions in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the figures may be higher than you think.

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Pennsylvania Drowsy Driving Car Accident Statistics

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT, issues an annual statistical report (“Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics”) summarizing the automotive accidents that occurred in Pennsylvania during the reporting year. In addition to providing basic crash statistics, such as total accidents, total injury accidents, and total fatal accidents, the reports also include information on specific factors that caused or contributed to accidents, such as weather conditions, vehicle types, road types, driver intoxication, and, as our personal injury attorneys will focus on here, driver fatigue.

According to the 2016 PennDOT report, a total of 129,395 auto accidents took place in Pennsylvania last year. Though many accidents resulted in property damage only, this figure unfortunately includes 59,856 injury crashes and 1,088 fatal crashes.

The same report concludes that drowsy driving was a contributing factor in 2,625 of the 129,395 total crashes recorded in 2016, or approximately 2% of all crashes. Drowsy driving was also a factor in 25 of the 1,088 fatal crashes that occurred last year, which is roughly 2.3%.

Unfortunately, this figure has remained fairly consistent over the past several years, with only minor fluctuations. In fact, drowsy driving has accounted for an increasingly larger portion of fatal crashes since 2013, shooting from 0.7% that year to 1.8% in 2014, dipping only slightly to 1.7% in 2015 before increasing again in 2016. This trend is evident from the Pennsylvania drowsy driving statistics below, which are also sourced from prior PennDOT accident reports:

  • 2015 Statistics
    • Total Accidents – 127,127
    • Total Fatal Accidents – 1,102
    • Drowsy Driving Accidents – 2,606 (2%)
    • Fatal Drowsy Driving Accidents – 19 (1.7%)
  • 2014 Statistics
    • Total Accidents – 121,317
    • Total Fatal Accidents – 1,107
    • Drowsy Driving Accidents – 2,567 (2.1%)
    • Fatal Drowsy Driving Accidents – 20 (1.8%)
  • 2013 Statistics
    • Total Accidents – 124,149
    • Total Fatal Accidents – 1,117
    • Drowsy Driving Accidents – 2,455 (2%)
    • Fatal Drowsy Driving Accidents – 8 (0.7%)

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What Are Microsleeps, and How Do They Affect Driving Performance?

Even though PennDOT reports do not explicitly reference sleeping drivers – only drivers who were “drowsy” – the very nature of drowsy driving often involves falling asleep at the wheel. That is because drivers can enter very short, almost unnoticeable periods of sleep called “microsleeps” (MS). A tired driver can repeatedly enter microsleeps without even realizing it. Though a microsleep may only last for a moment, that is all it takes to veer into another lane, collide with another vehicle, or strike a pedestrian or cyclist.

Research has been conducted on the subject of microsleeps and their effects on driving ability. According to a 2010 study published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, a peer-reviewed journal, drivers in the study “showed significant deterioration in vehicle control during the microsleep episodes compared to driving performance in the absence of microsleeps on equivalent segments of roadway. The degree of performance decrement correlated with microsleep duration, particularly on curved roads. Results indicate that driving performance deteriorates during microsleep episodes.” As the same study noted, “During microsleep episodes, attention lapses can impair the ability to detect and respond to crucial stimuli and events.”

Most people have never heard of “microsleeps,” which may lead one to assume that these events are rare or unusual. On the contrary, microsleeps may be common – particularly among drivers who spend long hours on the road, such as commercial drivers like truckers or bus operators. For instance, one study which examined more than 4,300 commercial bus drivers and truck drivers found that 28% of the participants – approximately 1,213 out of 4,331 people – experienced microsleeps. The number of drivers who experienced drowsiness was even higher at 75%, or about 3,248 out of 4,331 people.

Though the study analyzed Thai drivers, the problem of drowsy driving among commercial drivers is similarly widespread here in the United States, with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reporting, “Driver fatigue has been identified as an important crash cause. It is known that many drivers drive while fatigued, but accurate estimates are not available. HOS regulations that attempt to reduce fatigue [among commercial truckers] are highly controversial and widely violated.”

Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers Representing Crash Victims

The bottom line is that drowsy driving is prevalent, not only in Pennsylvania, but throughout the U.S. and perhaps the world. Even when drowsy drivers do not enter microsleeps, driving while fatigued still creates an incredible level of danger, annually causing or contributing to thousands of crashes in Pennsylvania alone.

If you or someone you love was injured in an auto accident that you believe was caused by a drowsy driver, or by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel, you could be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, medical bills, and other damages. For a free legal consultation concerning a commercial trucking accident claim or drowsy driving car accident claim in Pennsylvania, contact the Philadelphia truck accident attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000.

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