Job Safety

July 3, 2007

Fatigue and other Factors

Driver fatigue is estimated to be the cause of 100,000 highway crashes and 1,500 deaths each year. We would suggest the number attributed to fatigue could be much higher if driver fatigue were to be counted as a contributing condition. Nevertheless the numbers are daunting.


Overall: The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) projects that 43,300 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2006, down 0.3 percent from 43,443 in 2005. While deaths among passenger vehicle occupants and nonoccupants fell in 2006, motorcycle riders suffered a 5.4 percent increase. This was the ninth consecutive annual increase in motorcycle rider deaths.

By Vehicle Miles Traveled: The fatality rate — measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled — as projected by NHTSA was 1.44 in 2006, down from 1.47 in 2005.

By Crash Type: In 2006 there were 5,930,182 police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes, down 3.7 percent from 6,159,189 in 2005. Of total crashes, 1,710,000 caused injuries and 4,181,000 caused property damage only. NHTSA estimates 10 million or more crashes go unreported every year.

Work-Related: In 2005 crashes involving vehicles on public roadways were the leading cause of work-related fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting for almost a quarter of all fatal work injuries.

By Age Group: In 2005 older people (65 and older) made up 15 percent of all traffic fatalities, 14 percent of vehicle occupant fatalities and 20 percent of pedestrian fatalities, in large part because they are frailer and more likely to die from their injuries than younger people. (See Older Drivers paper.) In 2004 there were 28 million older licensed drivers, up from 17 percent in 1994. The total number of drivers rose only 13 percent from 1994 to 2004.

In 2005 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 accounted for 12.6 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes and for 16 percent of all drivers in police-reported crashes. In 2004 (latest available data) drivers in this age group accounted for 6.3 percent of all licensed drivers. To reduce high accident rates among young drivers, states are increasingly adopting graduated driver license programs, which allow young drivers to improve their skills and driving habits.

By Driver Behavior

Speeding: In 2005, 13,113 lives were lost due to speed-related accidents. Speeding was a contributing factor in 30 percent of all fatal crashes. In 2005, 38 percent of 15- to 20-year old male drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash. NHTSA says that speed-related crashes cost Americans $40.4 billion each year. A crash is considered speed related when the driver is charged with a speed-related offense or a law enforcement officer indicates that exceeding the posted speed limit, driving too fast for conditions or racing was a contributing factor.

Drunk Driving: There is an alcohol-related traffic fatality every 29 minutes. In 2006, 17,941 people died in alcohol-related crashes, up 2.4 percent from 17,525 in 2005 and was projected to be the highest level since 1992. Alcohol was involved in 41 percent of all crash fatalities in 2006. (See Drunk Driving paper.) Alcohol-related crashes are defined as those where someone involved, either a driver or a nonoccupant such as a pedestrian or bicyclist, had a traceable amount of alcohol in his or her blood.

Drunk Driving and Speeding: In 2005, 40 percent of intoxicated drivers (with a blood-alcohol content at or above 0.08, the definition of drunkenness) involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared with 14 percent of sober drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Red Light Running: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that more than 900 people a year die and nearly 2,000 are injured as a result of vehicles running red lights. About half of those deaths are pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles who are hit by red light runners.

Fatigue: NHTSA statistics show that at least 100,000 crashes and 1,500 deaths each year are the result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. A 2002 poll, conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, found that 100 million drivers, close to half of American adult drivers, drive while drowsy and nearly two out of ten admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel. New Jersey passed a law in 2003 that equates falling asleep at the wheel with reckless driving, and, if a driver falls asleep and kills someone in a crash, he or she can be charged with vehicular homicide and serve up to ten years in jail and pay fines. Although at least four states have considered similar legislation, New Jersey is the only state with such a law on the books.