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Council Report
June 17, 1998

Sleepiness, Driving, and Motor Vehicle Crashes

Author Affiliations

From the Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association.

JAMA. 1998;279(23):1908-1913. doi:10.1001/jama.279.23.1908
Objective.—

Objective.— To assess the contribution of driver sleepiness to highway crashes and review recent recommendations to change federal hours-of-service regulations for commercial motor vehicle drivers.

Data Sources.— Information was derived from a search of the MEDLINE, Transportation Research Information Service (TRIS), and Bibliographic Electronic Databases of Sleep (BEDS) databases from 1975 through 1997 and from manual review of the reference lists in relevant journal articles, government publications, conference proceedings, and textbooks.

Data Synthesis.— Driver sleepiness is a causative factor in 1% to 3% of all US motor vehicle crashes. Surveys of the prevalence of sleepy behavior in drivers suggest that sleepiness may be a more common cause of highway crashes than is reflected in these estimates. About 96% of sleep-related crashes involve passenger vehicle drivers and 3% involve drivers of large trucks. Risk factors include youth, shift work, alcohol and other drug use, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and sleep disorders.

Conclusions.— Increased awareness of the relationship between sleepiness and motor vehicle crashes will promote the health and safety of drivers and highway users. Physicians can contribute by encouraging good sleep habits, recognizing and treating sleep-related problems, and counseling patients about the risks of driving while sleepy. To protect public health and safety, the American Medical Association recommends continued research on devices and technologies to detect the signs of sleepiness and prevent the deterioration of driver alertness and performance. Educational programs about the risks of falling asleep while driving are needed for physicians, the public, and commercial truck drivers.

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