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.
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.2
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.
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.
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.
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.