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Last updated: February 6, 2023

High-Earning White Men Are Most Likely to Drive Drowsy

White male college graduates who make more than $100,000 are the most likely to drive drowsy.

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Unlike drunk driving and distracted driving, drowsy driving doesn’t get discussed much. And there’s a reason for that: While it does cause traffic fatalities (633 in 2020, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA), drowsy driving does so at rates less often than drunk or distracted driving. But even if it doesn’t cause as many fatal crashes, drowsy driving can cause property damage and injuries. You might also be surprised to learn some sleep-deprived groups are more guilty of driving drowsy than others.


Who Drives Drowsy the Most?

The National Sleep Foundation studied more than 1,000 U.S. adults about their behaviors and attitudes toward drowsy driving. The data showed that the groups more likely to drive drowsy were college graduates, people who earn more than $100,000 annually, men, people with children in their households, and white people. Across all groups, over 60 percent of people said they had driven drowsy before.1 However, the data is clear: The demographic most likely to drive drowsy is a white, male college graduate with an income of more than $100,000 and a child in their household.

Who Drives Drowsy the Most

Another study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that, contrary to information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teen drivers are actually less likely to drive drowsy than their adult counterparts. The AAA Foundation found that people ages 19 to 24 years old are the most likely to drive drowsy, with over half admitting they have driven while so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

Most likely to drive while drowsy by age

Overall, senior drivers were the least likely to drive drowsy, at a rate of only 12 percent. Why might that be? Seniors have better sleeping habits than younger age groups and, according to a 2021 study published in the neuroscience journal Brain Sciences, are “less vulnerable to sleep loss and sleepiness-related driving impairments than young adults.”3

Current Crash and Fatality Data

Drowsy driving was behind 2 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2020, causing 633 deaths that year. That was a 9 percent decrease from 2019, according to NHTSA data.4 In contrast, distracted driving was involved in 8 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2020, and drunk driving made up 30 percent of the total.

Historic Crash and Fatality Data

Consistently from 2011 to 2015, drowsy driving made up 2 percent of all traffic fatalities, with 3,663 drowsy driving deaths overall.

Total number of traffic fatalities compared to number of traffic fatalities involving drowsy driving

The good news is that, during this five-year time period, an average of 72 percent of drowsy driving crashes involved property damage only. Twenty-eight percent resulted in injuries, while only .01 percent involved fatalities.

Fatalities, Injuries, and Property Damage

How Common Is Drowsy Driving?

Studies differ on how common drowsy driving is. The National Sleep Foundation, for instance, found that 62 percent of U.S. drivers have driven while so tired they could barely keep their eyes open. Of those who admitted to driving drowsy, however, three-quarters said they do it less than once a year.

How often do you drive while drowsy

However, the AAA Foundation found that only 19 percent of drivers had driven under the same circumstances. Based on the two data sets, we can estimate the true amount of people who have driven drowsy lies between one-third and two-thirds of all U.S. drivers — a scary drowsy driving statistic.


Drowsy Driving Definition

Drowsy driving means driving while fatigued or tired. At its most extreme, drowsy driving could include falling asleep at the wheel, resulting in injury or death.


Some causes of drowsy driving include:

  • Untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea
  • Medications
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Late shifts at work

Who Is Most at Risk?

Obviously, tired people are most at risk of drowsy driving. This can include individuals like:

  • Commercial drivers of tow trucks, buses, and/or tractor trailers
  • Shift workers with night and/or long shifts
  • People with untreated sleep disorders
  • People who use medications that cause drowsiness
  • People who drive between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon5

Warning Signs and Common Characteristics

If you notice the following signs of drowsiness in yourself or the person driving you, you’ll want to pull over.

  • Blinking frequently
  • Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
  • Drifting from lanes
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road
  • Missing exits
  • Yawning frequently

Why Drowsy Driving Is Dangerous

While drowsy driving may not be quite as dangerous as driving under the influence (DUI), it still prevents drivers from paying attention to the road, making good decisions, and having quick reaction times. Keep reading for a close look at the consequences of drowsy driving.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

Driving drowsy is entirely preventable if you follow these recommendations.

  1. Stay alert. Before driving, avoid drinking alcohol or taking any medications that cause drowsiness. When in doubt, ask your pharmacist or doctor whether it’s safe to drive while on a particular medication.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says that adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night and teens need at least eight. While in its survey, nearly half of drivers believed they could drive safely on six hours of sleep or less, you shouldn’t underestimate the amount of sleep you need to drive safely.
    How many hours do you need to sleep to drive safely? Responses
    0-3 1%
    4 6%
    5 9%
    6 32%
    7 21%
    8 29%
    9 or more 3%
  3. Get any sleep disorder treated. If you snore, are very tired during the day, or breathe irregularly during sleep, you could be suffering from a sleep disorder.6 Talk to your doctor to see if you need treatment.
  4. Pull over. At the first sign of drowsiness, pull over and take a brief nap or, better yet, change drivers if possible.


Even though drowsy driving isn’t as deadly as drunk or distracted driving, it can still cause serious harm to you, your property, and others. If you get into an accident due to drowsy driving, your insurance rates could even increase.

To learn more about driving risks, read more of our auto insurance research, which covers topics as diverse as hit-and-runs, potholes, uninsured motorists, and the deadliest holidays for driving.


To compile this research, we analyzed data from third-party sources such as:

  • AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
  • Brain Sciences (a journal published by the National Library of Medicine)
  • Centers for Disease Control
  • Mayo Clinic
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • National Sleep Foundation


  1. Breaking Report from the National Sleep Foundation: Update on Drowsy Driving. National Sleep Foundation. (2022, Nov 2).

  2. 2021 Traffic Safety Culture Index. Foundation for Traffic Safety. (2022, Dec).

  3. Age-Related Effect of Sleepiness on Driving Performance: A Systematic-Review. Brain Sci via PubMed Central. (2021, Aug).

  4. Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020. U.S. Department of Transportation. (2022, Mar).

  5. Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022).

  6. Sleep Disorders. Mayo Clinic. (2022).