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Study says driver fatigue is responsible for 20 percent of crashes

Are you among the millions of California residents with an early-morning commute? Do you sometimes work long hours that have you driving home late at night? Do you find yourself on "autopilot" while traveling after a stressful day at the office?

If so, you may be in more danger than you think. Oakland residents often hear about the dangers of distracted driving, but a new study shows that fatigued driving accounts for about 20 percent of auto accidents.

Previous studies and surveys had concluded that fatigue was responsible for only about 2-3 percent of car accidents, but many of these studies were flawed. A recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute allowed researchers to observe hundreds of volunteer drivers during their actual commutes with nearly no interference from the researchers themselves.

Drivers were monitored for a period of time by a variety of sensors and unobtrusive cameras installed in their vehicles. After thoroughly examining the data, researchers concluded that drivers between the ages of 18 and 20 were the most likely to suffer fatigue-related crashes. Interestingly, researchers also found that more fatigue-related crashes or near-crashes occurred during the day than at night.

Commenting on the study methods and results, one researcher said: "The study allowed us, for the first time, to observe driver behavior just prior to a crash. In 20 percent of all crashes and 16 percent of all near crashes, the driver was showing fatigue. We saw eye-lid closure, head bobbing, severe loss of facial musculature, micro-sleep – which is when your eyes drift shut and then pop up. This was not just yawning. The drivers were asleep."

Because Americans work so hard and put in such long hours, most of us are used to being tired or fatigued as a matter of course. But as this study shows, being awake and alert is not just important at the office. A fatigued commute is much more dangerous than most people realize.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Driver Fatigue Causes 20% of Auto Crashes: Study," Susan Trulove, Apr. 15, 2013

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