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What is the impact of sleep-deprivation on driving?

Sleep deprivation poses a risk to motorists. Drivers who sleep less than seven of the past 24 hours have a greater likelihood of being involved in and responsible for car accidents, according to a recent study published in "Sleep" magazine.

Seven percent of all vehicle crashes in this country and 16 percent of all fatal vehicle accidents involve driver drowsiness. Even if drivers remain awake, sleep deprivation increases the risk of making serious driving errors such as failing to notice something important or misjudging a gap in traffic.

Adults should sleep seven to nine hours each night, but government surveys show that one in five adults sleep less than seven hours most nights. One in three say they sleep for less than seven hours.

This was the first peer-reviewed study to determine the relationship between the driver's amount of sleep and the risk of a vehicle crash. Researchers analyzed data from a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation which extensively studied a sample of 5,470 accidents and interviewed the drivers.

Drivers who reported less than four hours of sleep had 15.1 times the chance of being responsible for a car accident compared to drivers who slept the recommended 7 to 9 hours in the preceding 24 hours.

This crash risk is equal to an impaired driver with a blood alcohol concentration of approximately 1.5 times the legal limit, according to the Department of Transportation.

Drivers who reported six, five and four hours of sleep in the last 24 hours had 1.3, 1.9 and 2.9 times the odds of being responsible for an accident as compared to drivers who slept seven to nine hours.

Drivers with less than four hours of sleep posed even greater risks of being involved in a single-vehicle accident. Drivers who changed their sleep or work schedule within the preceding week and motorists who drove at least three hours without a break were also a bigger risk.

A car accident victim may be entitled to compensation for crashes caused by a drowsy driver. However, proof may be hard to find, and an attorney should be consulted.

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