Sleep Deprivation and Auto Accidents

Statistics shows that there is considerable data that have already been gathered through the years to prove that sleep deprivation had contributed a lot to the occurrence of road accidents.  Moreover, some of the vehicular accidents caused by lack of sleep had resulted into fatalities.  This is a reason which caused such incidences to capture so much attention.  These do not even count the unreported cases of accidents due to sleepy drivers.  All these can lead to the question whether or not sleep deprivation is a major cause of auto accidents, as what had been reported in various instances (Peters and others, 1999).

Identification of Important Factors

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There are several important factors which influence a driver’s state of being sleepy or tired while driving.  One factor is the amount of time that the driver has already been spending on the road.  This poses a direct effect since long driving hours can impair an individual’s driving performance regardless of the level of expertise.  With the impairment comes a greater risk of meeting an auto accident (Desaulniers, 2007).

Another factor is the quality of sleep the driver was able to get the evening before the travel.  Lack of sleep for a very long time likewise negatively affects the normal functioning of a driver’s motor skills and reflexes.  Studies show that the drivers who were involved in an auto accident had a relatively shorter period of sleep as compared to those who were usually safe on the road

Sleeping disorders also play a role in the deprivation of sleep.  Such illnesses as narcolepsy or sleep apnea are great concerns since they are factors which are hard to control or manage (George, 1999).

Obesity is likewise a factor since overweight drivers are more prone to automobile accidents as shown by a research done in Stanford University.  This is especially true to those whose body mass index or BMI is greater than 30 kilograms.  Those belonging in this population, according to the university’s study, have their risk of vehicular accident doubled as compared to those drivers with a normal body weight (Desaulniers, 2007).

External or environmental factors also comprise those which concern a driver’s tiredness or sleepiness.  One particular example is the absence of resting areas for the drivers, as well as nonexistence of safe parking locations (Desaulniers, 2007).


A hypothesis can be formulated through the preliminary information gathered and would be elaborated as the paper progresses.  The hypothesis formulated supports the idea that there is a higher risk of meeting a vehicular accident when the driver does not have adequate sleep.  The hypothesis therefore states that sleep deprivation is a major cause of automobile accidents.

Relevant Information

According to the organization Health Guidance, sleep deprivation and road accidents are directly correlated.  Based on recorded crashes, almost two and a half million injuries caused by road accidents were due to reduced attentiveness and consciousness, lack of proper mental functioning, and poor reflexes; all brought about by significant sleep deprivation.  Loss of sufficient sleep is already established to cause unwanted situations as those cited by the organization.  Some of the examples cited by the institution are the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Chernobyl nuclear accident with an astonishing 50,000 fatalities, and devastation of the Challenger space shuttle; to name three.  These are all accidents caused by sleep deprivation, which also further suggest that the same condition might give rise to automobile accidents the same way by adversely affecting the proper functioning of the body in contrast to when it is energized (Desaulniers, 2007).

Stanford University Medical School’s Sleep Disorders and Research Center showed that drivers with significant lack of sleep due to sleeping disorders are oftentimes suffocated while at sleep because of breathing problems accompanying the sleeping sickness.  This in turn causes them to suffer fatigue and tiredness during daytime.  With this, drivers deprived of sleep usually have poor reflexes, preventing them to avoid sudden moments of possible danger.  They also have diminished degree of focus, meaning a reduced attention span.  Because of disturbed mental faculty when there is no sufficient sleep, the processing of information is slow (Howard and others, 2004).

In a study, subjects were deprived of sleep for 28 hours while a separate crowd was given alcoholic beverages every 30 minutes.  Both groups had the same poor performances when given hand-eye coordination tests.  This implies that progressive loss of sleep poses almost equally the same risks as those encountered when driving under the influence of alcohol or even drugs (Desaulniers, 2007).

Marshall and others (2003) also conducted a research which focused on the relationship between sleep apnea and automobile accident.  They emphasized that the disorder causes fragmented periods of sleep, with particular effects on the cognitive faculty of an individual.  The effects include decreased alertness and awareness, impaired reflexes and motor responses, and slow processing of information especially in practical decision making while in control of the wheel.  These are all supported by evidences which are also studies made in different states, all aiming to determine the effects of sleep deprivation on road safety.

Researches were likewise done in Wisconsin with 913 subjects and in Ontario with 210 subjects.  All of the results collected suggested that drivers who lacked enough sleep are more prone to vehicular accidents.  Another which demonstrates the contribution of sleep deprivation on road mishaps is the laboratory test employing driving simulators which showed that patients with sleep apnea had poor driving performances as compared to control normal populations.  This is true for deviation of road lanes, events occurring off the road, and other parameters observed.  Control populations with ample sleep were able to have full control of the wheel, making them less likely to meet road accidents as assessed by the simulation studies (Marshall and others, 2003).

A research which highlighted the relationship between deprived sleep and vehicular accidents was made by Howard and his colleagues.  The author and his group assessed the risks through a survey which involved respondents of around 2,342.  Their results showed that 59.6 per cent had breathing disorders brought about by sleeping difficulties.  A little more than 15 per cent had sleep apnea and 24 per cent exhibited extreme lack of sleep.  Through further analyses of the survey questionnaires, they were able to find a direct correlation between sleep deprivation and accident risk, suggesting that increased level of sleep deprivation is directly related to increased risk of automobile accident.  The risk of road mishaps can also be caused by taking antihistamine as well as narcotic analgesics, both of which causes some sort of drowsiness or sleepiness after administration (Howard and others, 2004).

The Federal Highway Administration’s Human Factors Laboratory in cooperation with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, conducted a research about the effects of little sleep and complete sleep deprivation on driving.  The organizations studied the effects of lack of sleep on driving execution in the laboratory using a high fidelity driving simulator or HYSIM.  Their results confirmed that sleep deprivation is a considerable reason of vehicular accidents.  The rates of accident occurrence already suggested an increase after just a small decrease in the period of sleep the evening before the drive; and further gave a significant increase when the sleep deprivation was made even more progressive.  The data that they were able to gather moreover showed that the variables which were mostly affected by sleep deprivation are the lateral placement of the vehicle on the road, lane deviations or changing of lanes, and speed; all factors of which depend on the execution and control of the driver (Desaulniers, 2007).

Horne and Reyner (1995) also conducted a research that would determine the conditions associated with road mishaps brought about by sleep deprivation of the driver.  The study was carried out through a survey, supported by police files and interviews.  The results showed that automobile accidents due to lack of sleep greatly depend on the time of day when the driving was done, especially on monotonous lanes.

Medscape highlighted the negative impact of loss of sleep and touched its effect on driving performancews.  According to the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there is approximately 100,000 automobile accidents every year, the cause of which is the tiredness, fatigue, drowsiness, and sleepiness of the driver.  The road mishaps occurred usually because of the errors of swerving off the proper lanes and failure to stop when the traffic light turned red.  The decreased reflexes and response times were cognitive and motor effects of sleep deprivation (Medscape, 2005).

Studies also suggest that circadian effects are considerably great, with the state of being really sleepy observed mostly on graveyard shifts and then driving right after the work.  The time of day when the driving is performed is likewise comparably as important as considering the length of time consumed in driving.  Researches also showed that older drivers are more prone to being drowsy and sleepy in the middle of the afternoon and hence, should avoid the said time of the day if they would be having plans to drive (Horne and Reyner, 1995).

Testing of Hypothesis

Based on the researches presented, the studies clearly support the hypothesis that sleep deprivation is a major cause of automobile accidents.  All the articles were consistent of the idea that lack of sleep is directly correlated with the risk of road mishaps; and are therefore in agreement with the hypothesis.

Working with the Hypothesis

Due to sufficient and consistent evidences as suggested by the gathered information, the hypothesis is well supported by researches and established findings.  It is also important, however, to conduct more studies to provide additional information on how to prevent the accidents and how to educate drivers about the risks of driving while deprived of sleep.

Reconsideration of the Theory

It is appropriate to state that the hypothesis had been proven correct.  With the established theory to reconsider, it is clear that sleep deprivation and auto accidents are not just associated with each other but are directly correlated.

Broad Theory

Considering all the sides of the theory under study; it could also be suggested that sleep deprivation is a condition more controllable than what the researches state, since drivers might opt to rest or sleep first before driving.  This could lead to the question whether it is completely unavoidable or not.  Nevertheless, responsible driving is the key as one should not drive if he or she is deprived of sleep.