Experts say it can be as dangerous as drunk driving.
A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds nearly a third of drivers admitted nodding off at the wheel during the past month of driving.
“I think that drowsy driving might be the largest, most unrecognized traffic safety problem that we face in this country,” said Peter Kissinger of the AAA Safety Foundation.
Drowsy driving may cause as many as 17 percent of all accidents and 5,000 deaths a year on the nation’s roads, according to the foundation.
In the study, 96 percent of drivers said it is not OK to drive while you’re sleepy.
Despite that, 32 percent admitted they had done just that within the last month.
“A lot of people have gotten away with it in the past and, therefore, they’ve built up a false sense of security, they’ve reinforced a bad habit,” said Kissinger.
In a 2010 study, the AAA Foundation estimated that tired drivers were responsible for one in six fatal crashes, and one in eight crashes that sent someone to the hospital.
In more than half of the accidents, sleepy drivers drifted into another lane or off the road entirely.
The AAA Foundation said many drivers think they can simply will themselves to stay awake.
“Many drivers simply underestimate the problems associated with drowsy driving but, at the same time, they overestimate their ability to deal with it and that’s a deadly combination,” said Kissinger. “You cannot will yourself to stay awake. And when your body says enough’s enough, you are going to go to sleep.”
So what’s an exhausted driver to do?
“The only thing that really works is getting some rest,” said Kissinger. “So if you are driving and you start getting tired and finding yourself rolling the window down or turning up the radio, it’s time to pull off the road and get some rest.”