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New federal research shows that around 1 out of every 24 survey respondents reported falling asleep while driving at least once in the 30 days before taking the survey.

The survey, to be published in Friday’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was based on responses from a relatively large group of more than 147,000 people in 19 states and the District of Columbia about their sleeping routines and whether or not they had been asleep at the wheel in the past month.

The results were from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey administered between 2009 and 2010.

Men were found to be most at risk for what federal officials dubbed “drowsy driving,” with 5.3 percent of men surveyed compared with 3.2 percent of female respondents reporting that they had fallen asleep behind the wheel.

The prevalence of drowsy driving was higher among younger drivers, with almost 5 percent of respondents aged 18-24 saying they had fallen asleep behind the wheel and 6.3 percent of those aged 25-34 saying the same.

The latter age group reported the highest percentage of drowsy driving.

Those findings back what insurance companies generally believe about U.S. motorists: younger men are more susceptible to dangerous habits behind the wheel, including drunk, distracted and drowsy driving. That’s the reason many parents who shop for auto insurance coverage for a teenager will find that younger male motorists are often charged pricier-than-average insurance premiums by insurers who want to protect themselves against higher chances for incidents that lead to claims.

The survey also found that drivers who averaged less than six hours of sleep a night were most at risk for drowsy driving. Almost 7 percent of those reporting “frequent insufficient sleep” of two weeks or more in the past month said they had fallen asleep while driving, while 8.6 percent of those who had unintentionally fallen asleep during the day reported they had done the same behind the wheel.

Respondents from Texas reported the highest rate of falling asleep behind the wheel, with 1 out of every 16 respondents saying they had done so. Oregon had the lowest rate, at 1 out of every 40 respondents.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2.5 percent of traffic fatalities and 2 percent of injuries in 2009 were related to drowsy driving.

“Although it is clear that falling asleep while driving is dangerous, drowsiness impairs driving skills even if drivers manage to stay awake,” the CDC said in a statement. “Drowsiness slows reaction time, makes drivers less attentive, and impairs decision-making skills, all of which can contribute to motor vehicle crashes.”

A 2011 survey from the AAA found that, while virtually all American motorists find “drowsy driving” an unacceptable habit, almost 1 out of every 3 drivers had reported at least nearly falling asleep at the wheel in the month before being surveyed. Other research has pegged drowsy driving rates at higher figures because driver fatigue is commonly underreported.

According to federal officials, motorists should make sure they get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night and seek medical treatment for sleep disorders to avoid drowsy driving.
But the best solution is to turn the ignition off to sleep it off.

“The only safe thing for drivers to do if they start to feel tired while driving is to get off the road and rest until no longer drowsy,” the CDC said.

by John Pirro, Online Auto Insurance News Team
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