FRIDAY, June 23, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Drowsy drivers may be responsible for as many as 3 percent to 33 percent of all motor vehicle accidents, experts say. And a new French study suggests that many people keep driving even though they know they're overtired.
Researchers at the Universite Victor Segalen conducted a study of French car crashes in order to determine whether or not drivers recognized their behavior when driving impaired by fatigue.
Reports filed from nearly 13,300 serious road traffic accidents were analyzed, along with a compilation of answers to a series of questions about fatigue and driving habits. Participants responded to a question that asked if they had driven while sleepy within the last 12 months.
Sixty-three percent of respondents said they never drove while fatigued, 36 percent said a few times, 0.8 percent said about once a month, and 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent responded about "once a week" and "more than once a week," respectively.
Participants who said they sometimes drove in a self-described state of sleepiness were more likely to be involved in a serious car accident over the next three years, the researchers found.
The accident risk rose along with the frequency of self-reported sleepy driving. For example, drivers who admitted to having driven while sleepy a few times within the past year were 1.5 times more likely to have an accident than drivers who said they did not drive while they were sleepy. Drivers who answered that they drove while sleepy about once a month had a three-fold higher risk of a serious accident.
The bottom line, according to the researchers: Even though some drivers recognize they may be too sleepy to drive, they rarely pull over and rest to avoid an accident. More preventive measures are needed to educate motorists of the potential dangers of driving while sleepy, the French team said.
Drowsy drivers are a real hazard in the United States, as well. According to a report released in April by the Institute of Medicine, motor vehicle accidents involving tired drivers cost at least $48 billion a year.
The French study appeared Friday in the online edition of British Medical Journal.
The National Safety Council has more information on driving safety.