New research underscores prevalence and risks of drowsy driving

Research suggests drowsy driving crashes have grown more common and occur thousands of times yearly, making it crucial for drivers to understand this risk.

Each year, thousands of people in New York suffer serious injuries, emotional trauma and other setbacks as a result of car accidents. In 2014 alone, over 299,000 crashes occurred throughout the state, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. These accidents caused at least 160,000 injuries and over 1,000 fatalities.

Many of these accidents may involve clearly negligent behaviors, such as distracted driving, speeding and drunk driving. However, research now suggests that the more insidious and frequently overlooked habit of drowsy driving also plays a prevalent role in many of the state's motor vehicle accidents.

A growing accident cause

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that thousands of drowsy driving crashes occur in the U.S. during an average year. Between 2005 and 2009, there were nearly 83,000 drowsy driving crashes annually, with an estimated 37,000 of those causing injuries and over 800 resulting in death. Just over the last decade, over 7,000 fatalities have been attributed to drowsy driving.

Worrisomely, these accidents also appear to be becoming more common. As Fox News recently reported, NHTSA data shows that these crashes have more than doubled over the past 20 years. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that drowsy drivers now play a role in over 300,000 accidents each year.

Drowsy driving accidents are also underreported, since there is no conclusive test to identify fatigue and since drivers may decline to report their condition to authorities. Therefore, the number of these accidents could be even higher than these figures indicate.

Risks of driving drowsy

Drowsiness can have numerous negative effects on a person's performance as a driver. Even if a fatigued driver stays awake, she or he may experience altered perceptions, slowed response times and impaired judgment. According to Fox News, one study even found that after staying awake for 24 hours, a driver exhibits the same level of impairment that he or she would while legally intoxicated.

This makes it important for drivers to understand how to reduce their risk of experiencing a drowsy driving accident. Motorists should take the following steps to ensure that they stay alert while behind the wheel:

· Refrain from driving after drinking or after using medications that may cause drowsiness.

· Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night and adhere to a regular sleep schedule.

· Limit driving late at night and in the afternoon, when circadian rhythms cause greater drowsiness.

Drivers should also understand whether they are at enhanced risk for experiencing accidents due to fatigue. Shift workers, teenagers, people with sleep disorders and other individuals who experience disrupted or limited sleep may be more likely to drift off at the wheel. Many large truck crashes may also involve fatigue, due to the long and irregular hours that truckers work.

Redress for accident victims

Unfortunately, taking precautions to avoid drowsy driving does not guarantee a person protection from fatigue-related accidents caused by others. However, if there is clear evidence that another driver was at fault, victims might be able to seek legal recourse. An attorney may be able to offer further advice on the available recompense and the claim process.