How to reduce risks for teens that are often driving drowsy

Drowsy driving kills an estimated 6,400 people a year in the United States alone, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Crash and fatality data are likely underestimated, the sleep foundation said.


Fatigue has costly effects on the safety, health, and quality of life of the American public. Whether fatigue is caused by sleep restriction due to a new baby waking every couple of hours, a late or long shift at work, hanging out late with friends, or a long and monotonous drive for the holidays – the negative outcomes can be the same. These include impaired cognition and performance, motor vehicle crashes, workplace accidents, and health consequences.

Tackling these issues can be difficult when our lifestyle does not align with avoiding drowsy driving. In a 24/7 society, with an emphasis on work, longer commutes, and exponential advancement of technology, many people do not get the sleep they need. Effectively dealing with the drowsy-driving problem requires fundamental changes to societal norms and especially attitudes about drowsy driving.

The terms drowsy, sleepy, and fatigue are used interchangeably although there are differences in the way these terms are used and understood.


Unfortunately, determining a precise number of drowsy-driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities is not yet possible. Crash investigators can look for clues that drowsiness contributed to a crash, but these clues are not always identifiable or conclusive.

NHTSA’s census of fatal crashes and estimate of traffic-related crashes and injuries rely on police and hospital reports to determine the incidence of drowsy-driving crashes. NHTSA estimates that in 2017, 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These crashes led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths. But there is broad agreement across the traffic safety, sleep science, and public health communities that this is an underestimate of the impact of drowsy driving. 

Crashes and Fatalities

Sleepiness can result in crashes any time of the day or night, but three factors are most commonly associated with drowsy-driving crashes.

Drowsy-driving crashes:

  1. Occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late afternoon. At both times of the day, people experience dips in their circadian rhythm—the human body’s internal clock that regulates sleep;
  2. Often involve only a single driver (and no passengers) running off the road at a high rate of speed with no evidence of braking; and
  3. Frequently occur on rural roads and highways.


In a ew survey, teens reported high rates of drowsy driving. School and job commitments were the top factors keeping them up at night.

A corresponding survey of U.S. adult drivers showed similar trends.

Both teens and adults called drowsy driving “highly risky.”

Previous studies have established that young people are at high risk for drowsy driving.

“What we see in our results this year is many teens, early in their driving experience, say they’ve already driven while drowsy. Overall, teens know the risks of drowsy driving, but don’t think it’s as risky as other forms of impaired driving,” Joseph Dzierzewski, a vice president of the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), said in a foundation news release.

“The good news is—drowsy driving is preventable, and there’s a lot we can teach our young drivers about the importance of getting the sleep they need before they get behind the wheel,” he added.

The NSF’s 2023 Drowsy Driving Survey is part of its Drowsy Driving Prevention Week, a campaign to help Americans get the sleep they need and reduce numbers of sleep-deprived people behind the wheel.

Drowsy driving kills an estimated 6,400 people a year in the United States alone, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Crash and fatality data are likely underestimated, the sleep foundation said.

About 6 in 10 adult drivers said they had driven a car when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

In their first two years of driving, 1 in 6 teens said they had already driven while drowsy. About 95% of teens consider drowsy driving risky, but most rate drunken, drugged and distracted driving as more dangerous.

Teen drivers with jobs are more than twice as likely as others to have driven when they could barely keep their eyes open.

To reduce the risk, the NSF says it’s important to get the recommended amount of sleep—seven to nine hours a night for adults, and eight to 10 for teens of driving age.

The group also offered these safety tips:

  • Plan long trips with a passenger who can look for early warning signs of drowsiness but also help with driving when needed. A good driving companion stays awake to talk to you and is aware of your alertness.
  • Schedule stops every 100 miles or two hours.
  • Be mindful of warning signs, such as frequent blinking and yawning, or difficulty with lane and speed control.

“At NSF, we’re dedicated to helping everyone prioritize their sleep for health and safety,” the foundation’s CEO, John Lopos, said in the news release. “Getting enough quality sleep to be your Best Slept Self is also important for our safe driving and responsibility on the road.”