AAA: Drowsiness is a factor in more crashes than you think

The remains of a tractor-trailer are removed from the I-95 southbound underpass of Whippoorwill Road in Old Lyme on Aug. 15, 2015, as emergency crews work the scene north of Exit 70 in Old Lyme. A new study by AAA shows drowsiness is a factor in more motor vehicle crashes than previously thought. (Tim Cook/The Day)
The remains of a tractor-trailer are removed from the I-95 southbound underpass of Whippoorwill Road in Old Lyme on Aug. 15, 2015, as emergency crews work the scene north of Exit 70 in Old Lyme. A new study by AAA shows drowsiness is a factor in more motor vehicle crashes than previously thought. (Tim Cook/The Day)

A new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety suggests drowsiness might play a role in far more crashes than currently is estimated.

Released Thursday, the study features researchers’ analysis of footage from more than 700 wrecks. According to Amy Parmenter, spokeswoman for AAA in the greater Hartford area, the footage came from in-vehicle dashcams. The researchers examined drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to each crash and, based on how long their eyes were closed, determined whether they were drowsy.

They found drowsiness was a factor in 9.5 percent of the crashes, which is notable in part because it’s much higher than what federal agencies conclude from police reports. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, drowsy driving was involved in just 1.1 percent of the nation’s collisions in 2015, the latest year for which data are available.

On its webpage, NHTSA acknowledges that 1.1 percent likely is low and points to its reliance on police reports as one reason why.

“Crash investigators can look for certain clues that drowsiness was likely to have contributed to driver error, but these clues are not always identifiable or conclusive,” the agency states.

In sharing the study, Parmenter also highlighted results from a recent AAA Foundation survey. In the survey, 29 percent of respondents said they had driven while they could hardly keep their eyes open at least once within the past month. That was true even as nearly everyone surveyed said they consider drowsy driving a serious threat to their safety.

According to the UConn Connecticut Crash Data Repository, 4,778, or 1.4 percent, of crashes throughout the state involved drowsiness from Jan. 1, 2015, through Jan. 1 of this year. Regionally, that number was 366, or 2 percent.

Crashes that involved drowsy driving
Crashes that involved drowsy driving, January 2015-18. Data from UConn Connecticut Crash Data Repository.

Of the local wrecks, most resulted in property damage only or caused just minor injuries. But two led to serious injuries and two others ended tragically, leading to a total of three fatalities.

Records show that when 26-year-old Alexandra Brown crashed in August 2015, ending her life and the life of her unborn child, it was because she was fatigued. The Niantic woman, nine months pregnant, was driving south on Interstate 95 in Stonington when her car veered from the roadway and careened into a guardrail. She was ejected from the car.

According to her obituary, Brown had worked as a certified nursing assistant at a Groton retirement home and had two other children.

“It is so tragic such a beautiful, joyful girl that I have known since she was in elementary school should be taken so young,” one woman wrote in Brown’s online guestbook. “I was always greeted with a sweet smile. Our hearts ache for her children and family.”

Just days after Brown’s fatal crash, a tractor-trailer driver slammed into a concrete bridge support on I-95 south in Old Lyme. Photos of the truck show it was ripped to shreds. The 62-year-old driver had to be airlifted to the hospital with suspected serious injuries. Police determined he was fatigued at the time of the early morning wreck.

And this past fall, when a woman driving a van left the roadway and hit Christopher Bosma, killing him, she, too, was drowsy behind the wheel, records show. The 41-year-old Bosma was well known in North Stonington, where he ran a business called Made in the Shade Sheet Metal. In his obituary, family members described Bosma as an outdoorsy kind of guy who liked working on his trucks and cracking jokes.

In Bosma’s online guestbook, one friend described him as “one of the freest spirits I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”

“... I never told Chris this, but he taught me a lot about being yourself and living life on your own terms,” Adam Curcuro wrote. “Some of the best days of my life were spent being in the outdoors with him.”

Police have not charged the driver in the case.

“As many of us struggle to balance busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” Parmenter said. “But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

l.boyle@theday.com

A car passes by a makeshift memorial on Interstate 95 southbound just prior to Exit 91 in Stonington on Aug. 5, 2015.  The memorial was placed in memory of Alexandra L. Brown, 26, of Niantic, who died when the vehicle she was driving hit a metal guard rail and she was ejected. A new study by AAA shows drowsiness is a factor in more motor vehicle crashes than previously thought. (Tim Martin/The Day)
A car passes by a makeshift memorial on Interstate 95 southbound just prior to Exit 91 in Stonington on Aug. 5, 2015. The memorial was placed in memory of Alexandra L. Brown, 26, of Niantic, who died when the vehicle she was driving hit a metal guard rail and she was ejected. A new study by AAA shows drowsiness is a factor in more motor vehicle crashes than previously thought. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Tips and tricks from AAA

Warning signs of drowsiness include:


  • Having trouble keeping your eyes open

  • Drifting from your lane

  • Not remembering the last few miles driven

AAA recommends that drivers:


  • Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake

  • Avoid heavy foods

  • Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

For longer trips, drivers should:


  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles

  • Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving

  • Not underestimate the power of a quick nap. Pulling into a rest stop and taking a nap — at least 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes of sleep — can help to keep drivers alert on the road.

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