Roundup: Driving While Drowsy is Bigger Hazard Than Previously Thought, AAA Reports

Driving a vehicle while drowsy is a bigger health hazard than existing federal statistics show, says the American Automobile Association (AAA) after conducting what the organization calls the most in-depth research ever into the habits of everyday drivers involved in road accidents.

The AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety reviewed video footage of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash. Using a formula involving the percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed to measure their level of drowsiness, the researchers determined that 9.5 percent of all crashes, and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage, involved drowsiness.

Federal estimates indicate drowsiness is a factor in only one to two percent of crashes. The difficulty in detecting drowsiness after a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues, the AAA says. The new research is the first analysis of in-vehicle dashcam video from more than 700 crashes, confirming that the danger of drowsy driving soars above official estimates, the organization states.

“Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk. By conducting an in-depth analysis using video of everyday drivers, we can now better assess if a driver was fatigued in the moments leading up to a crash.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily. In a recent AAA Foundation survey, nearly all drivers (96 percent) said they viewed drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety. Nonetheless, 29 percent admitted to driving when they were so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.

“Don’t be fooled, the only antidote for drowsiness is sleep,” said William Van Tassel, manager of Driver Training for AAA. “Short term tactics like drinking coffee, singing, rolling down the window will not work. Your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.”

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Noise Could be a Risk Factor for Heart Disease, Study Finds

Everyday loud noises that you may take for granted — such as the sounds of loud traffic, construction and noisy workplaces — could add up to stress on your heart in the form of irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and even heart failure, according to a new study by German and Danish researchers published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology.

It’s not exactly the recurring noise itself that is being linked to heart problems, but that elevated stress they trigger. The study focused on transportation-related noises — airplanes flying overheard, car horns, engines, tires screeching, and the high-pitched squeeling of brake pads, especially in large vehicles.

“As the percentage of the population exposed to detrimental levels of transportation noise are rising, new developments and legislation to reduce noise are important for public health,” writes Thomas Münzel, M.D., director of cardiology at the Mainz University Medical Center in Germany, and one of the study’s authors.

Münzel and the other authors of the study examine data from previous studies to determine a link between noise and heart disease. Loud noises can trigger stress hormones that over time can hurt the heart. The disruption of sleep patterns from elevated noise levels can also be harmful over time, they concluded. However, other factors are likely at play, such as unhealthy diets and even air pollution. Excessive noise adds to stress levels and can be particularly harmful to those people already experiencing underlying risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or being overweight or obese.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that noise is an “underestimated threat that can cause a number of short- and long-term health problems, such as sleep disturbance, cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, hearing impairment…”

Some groups are more vulnerable to noise, the WHO says, specifically:

  • Children. They spend more time in bed than adults and are more exposed to night noise.
  • Chronically ill and elderly people. They are more sensitive to higher-than-normal noises that disrupt sleep or rest.
  • Shift workers. They are at higher risk because their sleep structure is under stress.
  • The less affluent. Those who cannot afford to live in quiet residential areas, or have adequately insulated homes, are more likely to suffer disproportionately.

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FDA Approves First ‘Smart Watch’ to Detect Seizures

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the marketing for Embrace, a smart watch that detects seizures in epilepsy patients and alerts caregivers.

The prescription-only device is the world’s first “smart watch” to be green-lighted by the FDA for this type of use. The watch was developed by Empatica to monitor the most dangerous kinds of seizures, known as “grand mal” and “generalized tonic-clonic” seizures.

The device was tested in a clinical study of 135 epilepsy patients, who were also monitored via continuous video electroencephalography (EEG). Over 272 days, researchers collected 6,530 hours of data, including 40 generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Embrace detected 100 percent of the seizures.

Empatica says that Embrace’s high sensitivity makes the reporting of seizures easier and more accurate. The smart watch sends an alert immediately to a caregiver. Empatica is a spin-off from MIT Media Lab, located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was founded in 1985 and encourages leading-edge projects in technology, media, science, art and design. The Embrace watch was launched through a crowdfunding campaign in 2015.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.2 percent of the U.S. population suffers from Epilepsy, amounting to around 3.4 million patients, including 470,000 children. About 35 percent of these patients do not respond to medication to control their seizures. These seizures can result in a loss of consciousness, leaving the victim in a state of confusion for a prolonged period after the initial seizure.

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