People Are Driving While Drowsy or Sick, and the Costs Add Up

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

There are plenty of reasons to be wary when getting behind the wheel and heading out for your daily commute, running errands, or just going for an afternoon cruise. The road is a hazardous place, with extreme weather and the fear of getting caught in a speed trap a constant worry for many. But there are a myriad of unseen dangers lurking around every corner, or, rather, behind almost every steering wheel.

A new survey released by is shedding more light than ever into what those additional hazards are, and it turns out that sleepy drivers are way up at the top of list of things to be worried about. In all, 2,000 drivers were interviewed, and asked about the times they decided to get behind the wheel when they probably shouldn’t have. The reasoning for not getting on the road ranged from broken or malfunctioning equipment to personal health, and the numbers are pretty surprising.

For starters, it was found that while a majority 60 percent of those asked felt that driving while sleepy or drowsy should be illegal, 68 percent of those surveyed admitted to doing so. Driving while drowsy is currently only illegal in two states, New Jersey and Arkansas, while others are currently looking into passing legislation or are in the midst of studying the issue. In New Jersey, drivers can be charged with reckless driving, while Arkansas will slap those who hit and kill others while driving with negligent homicide charges.

Other major areas of concern include driving with a headache, which 53 percent of respondents admitted to doing, and driving while ill, which 35 percent admitted to. One of the more frightening questions involved drinking, in which 23 percent of those polled said they ended up driving because they were ‘less drunk’ than their friends.

Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In addition to physical ailments, drunkenness and sleep deprivation, many drivers are taking to the road in vehicles that are mechanically compromised or unsafe. While almost everyone is guilty of doing so in one instance or another, many potentially serious issues appear to not even phase the judgment of many drivers.

The most prevalent mechanical issue that won’t stop drivers from taking to the road is the ‘check engine’ light, which 61 percent of respondents said they will ignore, at least in the short term, to get where they need to go. Much more alarming than that is that 32 percent of those asked started driving when they couldn’t see through the windshield due to snow or ice. Another 26 percent reported driving with broken windshield wipers. Now, depending on where you live, those last two might not apply so much (hey, Phoenix residents!), but it’s still a worrisome trend.

There were even a handful of people that reported driving with incredibly serious mechanical issues, like flat tires, doors having to be held closed, no car seats, and even six percent of respondents said they had driven their car while the cabin was filling with exhaust fumes.

You know, the same fumes that can kill you? Yeah, apparently a solid six percent of drivers think nothing of getting behind the wheel while exhaust is pouring into interior.

Many individuals also don’t like to listen to other people, particularly when it comes to taking their advice on their current physical condition and corresponding ability to properly operate a motor vehicle.

Ever try convincing someone who has been drinking to hand over the keys? It can be quite a challenge. And that goes for being sick or sleepy as well.

Although a comforting 79 percent of people did heed others’ advice when asked not to drive, the most common excuse was that the driver needed to go to work, followed by they needed to go home.

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

So what does it all mean, what kind of effect does all of this have on society, in terms of cost? The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have reported that one out of every eight fatal accidents can be attributed to drowsiness, and can account for up to 100,000 crashes annually. That also leaves more than 70,000 people injured, and 1500 dead.

With so many crashes as a result of people driving when they’re not in tip-top shape, the cost gets passed off to the rest of us in the way of higher insurance rates. Of course, mechanical issues that lead to accidents opens up a whole new range of problems, but still doesn’t help alleviate the extra costs associated with bad driving choices.

Penny Gusner, and analyst with, says drivers who do end up getting into accidents as a result of their choices will see the results the next time their insurance is up for renewal.

“If you crash due to dozing off behind the wheel or because your windshield wipers weren’t working, your accident will be covered.  Just because the accident will be covered doesn’t mean you won’t feel some pain from your insurer, though — just wait until your next renewal when your rates are bumped up,” she said.

If insurance rates don’t get you, law enforcement might. Some states hold increased patrols to seek out impaired drivers, and even have government-sponsored programs to increase awareness.

“Campaigns that include both a public education component combined with high-visibility enforcement have been shown to produce results, for example ‘Click It or Ticket,’” said David Harkey of the University of North Carolina Highway Research Center. “Education alone is not the solution. We have seen too many safety issues where such a solution does not work.”